The Bombay High Court Friday stayed the execution of two death row convicts in the 2007 Pune BPO employee gang-rape and murder case till further orders.
The two convicts -- Purushottam Borate and Pradeep Kokade -- were to be hanged to death at Pune's Yerwada prison on June 24. They were awarded the death penalty by a court in Pune for the rape and murder of a female BPO employee in 2007.
The duo had last month moved the high court, seeking a stay on the execution of their death warrants on the ground there has been an "inordinate delay" in deciding on their mercy petitions by the Maharashtra governor and the president.
They had also cited a delay in issuance of the warrants for execution of the death penalty, which they want to be commuted to life imprisonment.
A division bench Friday was informed by the convicts' counsel, Yug Chaudhry, that the Centre has declined to hand over to them four documents pertaining to recommendations made by officers in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) internally in the case after which a report was sent to the president.
On the basis of this report and facts of the case, the president had rejected the convicts' mercy petitions in May 2017.
According to Chaudhry, the Central Information Commission (CIC) on June 16 this year directed the Union government to hand over the said documents to the applicants (Kokade and Borate).
The bench, headed by Justice B P Dharmadhikari, noted that at this stage, when a date has already been fixed for execution of the death penalty, opportunity should be given to the convicts to fight their case.
The court directed the Union government to file their affidavit stating if they are willing to give those documents to the petitioners.
"The scheduled execution on June 24, 2019 shall not take place until further orders," Justice Dharmadhikari said and posted the petitions for further hearing on June 25.
The petitions have claimed that the "inordinate delay" in executing them violated their fundamental rights.
"Excessive and unexplained delay of over four years (1509 days) in execution of the sentence of death causes unnecessary and unavoidable pain, suffering and mental torment that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment violative of Article 21 (right to life)," the duo said in the petitions.
However, the state government has opposed the pleas and maintained there has been no delay on the part of the government or authorities at the prison, where the two are lodged, in initiating and completing necessary procedure for execution.
"What the petitioners are trying to do is that under the garb of this so called delay seek the court to commute their sentence," Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the bench Thursday.
"The petitioners have been already convicted and awarded the death penalty by the trial court and then the high court and finally the the Supreme Court has confirmed it," he said.
"This whole process will be defeated if at this stage their death penalty is commuted to life imprisonment," the advocate general had argued.
On April 10, a sessions court in Pune had issued warrants setting June 24 as the date of execution.
In March 2012, the duo was convicted and awarded the death penalty by a Pune sessions court for kidnapping, raping and murdering the BPO employee.
According to case details, the woman, who worked with Wipro BPO, got into the regular cab contracted by the company to report for her night duty on November 1, 2007 in a Pune suburb.
The cab driver Borate, accompanied by his friend Kokade, changed the route and took her to a remote place where they raped and strangled her with a dupatta (stole).
They also disfigured her face to conceal her identity. In September 2012, the high court confirmed the punishment and the verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court in May 2015.
The Maharashtra governor rejected their mercy petitions in April 2016 and the President of India in May 2017.