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Bombay HC commutes death sentence of sisters who killed children

The death sentences to Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit of Kolhapur were confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2006. The state government supported granting the death sentences.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
Updated: January 19, 2022 4:07:19 am
Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit (Express Archives)

Observing that state machinery showed “laxity and indifference” in deciding their mercy plea, the Bombay High Court on Tuesday commuted the death sentences awarded to sisters Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit to life imprisonment. 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 death sentences to Shinde and Gavit of Kolhapur were confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2006. The state government supported granting the death sentences.

The High Court had concluded the hearing and closed the matter for verdict on December 22.

The court also pulled up the state for the “unexplained, inordinate and long delay” and said that due to the casual approach of its officers, a mercy petition was not decided for nearly seven years and 10 months.

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“State machinery showed laxity and indifference,” the court said. It added that the state represents the interest of society in the criminal justice system. “The respondent state has not only violated constitutional rights of the petitioners, but also failed the innocent victims of serious crimes,” the bench said.

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. “Crimes committed by petitioners are heinous and beyond words to condemn,” the bench observed.

“The Supreme Court dismissed their appeal. They were a menace to society. We have no doubt that the competent authority will consider the gravity of offense and the observations are considered,” the bench noted and cancelled and set aside a warrant to execute the death sentence.

A division bench of Justices Nitin M Jamdar and Sarang Kotwal was hearing the duo’s review plea seeking to commute their death sentence to life imprisonment stating that there has been an “inordinate delay” of eight years in deciding mercy plea and execution of their death sentence.

The sisters were arrested in November 1996 while their mother Anjana, a co-accused, died of illness in 1998. 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.

The plea filed by the sisters through advocate Aniket Vagal stated that the delay of nearly eight years in deciding on the mercy plea was “unfair, cruel, excessive and arbitrary,” and the same had caused “immense mental torture, emotional and physical agony to them” and their death sentence be reduced to life imprisonment.

While the bench had concluded hearing in the plea on Saturday December 18, it had raised a query to Chief Public Prosecutor Aruna Pai to clarify the government’s position as the state has a power of remission (reduction) of sentences and it could also decide on not granting such remission to any convict.

Pai had submitted that considering the seriousness of the crime, despite the delay in mercy petition, the state government supported the death sentence and withdrew its alternate submission on “life imprisonment till end of natural life”.

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