Bombay HC commutes death sentence of sisters who killed children
- Recently The Bombay High Court commuted the death sentences awarded to sisters Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit to life imprisonment observing that state machinery showed “laxity and indifference” in deciding their mercy plea
- The death sentences to Shinde and Gavit of Kolhapur were confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2006.
- The state government supported granting the death sentences.
Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit-Case Background
- The duo was convicted for kidnapping 13 children, killing some of them and using the others as cover to snatch purses and chains between 1990 and 1996.
- The sisters were convicted by the sessions court in June 2001 and the High Court had upheld their conviction in September 2004.
- In 2006, the apex court had confirmed their death sentence for five murders.
- In August 2014, the President of India rejected their mercy plea, after which, the sisters moved the High Court seeking judicial review of the President’s decision and sought reduction in sentence.
Ruling of Bombay HC while commuting the sentences:
- The court has ruled that the state represents the interest of society in the criminal justice system and the respondent state has not only violated constitutional rights of the petitioners, but also failed the innocent victims of serious crimes
- The court added that while it acceded to prayer for commutation of death sentence, it cannot accept the request of releasing them forthwith as they have spent 25 years in prison and such a relief can be granted by the state in the form of remission.
Constitutional Provision to Grant Pardon
- Article 72 of the Constitution gives the President the authority to grant pardons, reprieves, respites, or remissions of penalty, as well as to suspend, remit, or commute the sentence of anybody guilty of a crime.
- These words have the following meanings:
- Pardon: It absolves the offender of all penalties, punishments, and disqualifications by removing both the penalty and the conviction.
- Commutation: It refers to the exchange of one kind of punishment for a less severe form of punishment. A death sentence, for example, may be converted to a period of solitary confinement.
- Remission: It refers to the process of lowering the length of a sentence without affecting its nature. For example, a five-year sentence of harsh imprisonment might be reduced to one year of rigorous imprisonment.
- Respite: It refers to the imposition of a lighter term in place of one that was initially imposed owing to a unique circumstance, such as a convict's physical impairment or a woman offender's pregnancy.
- Reprieve: It refers to a temporary delay of execution of a punishment (particularly a death sentence). Its goal is to provide the criminal enough time to petition the President for a pardon or commutation of his or her sentence.
Process for granting Pardon to convicts
- The procedure begins with filing a mercy petition with the President of India under Article 72
- A petition of this type is then forwarded to the Ministry of Home Affairs for consideration, after which the respective State Government is consulted.
- The Home Minister makes suggestions after the consultation, and the petition is forwarded back to the President.
Pardoning Power of Governor
- Article 161 confers the power of pardon on the Governor to grant pardon etc in certain cases.
- The Governor of the State shall have the power to grant pardon , reprieves, respites, or remission of punishment or to suspend or cancel or lessen the punishment of any person convicted of any offence.
Difference in pardoning power of President and Governor
- The power of the President to grant pardon extends in the cases where the punishment is by the Court Martial but Article 161 does not provide such power to the Governor under Indian Constitution.
- The President can allow pardon in all cases where the sentence of death but the pardoning power of the Governor does not extend to the death sentences cases.
Supreme Court Judgements on Pardoning Powers
- The Supreme Court has conclusively established in the landmark cases of Maru Ram and Kehar Singh that the power of pardon is subject to judicial scrutiny.
- In case of K.M. Nanavati v State of Bombay a reprieve granted by the Governor under Article 161 was held constitutionally invalid since it conflicted with the rules made by the Supreme Court under Article 145.
- In Satpal v State of Haryana the Supreme Court quashed an order of the Governor pardoning a person convicted of murder on the ground that the Governor had not been advised properly with all the relevant materials.
- In the recent judgement of Epuru Sudhakar and Anr. v Government of Andhra Pradesh and Ors.
- The Court set aside a remission granted by the Governor of Andhra Pradesh on the ground that irrelevant and extraneous materials had entered into the decision making.