|India's Supreme Court|
Sixteen years after they torched a bus and burnt to death three college girls while protesting the arrest of the then AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa, the Supreme Court on Friday commuted the death penalty of all three convicts to life imprisonment, saying the incident happened in a flash during mob frenzy and is not pre-meditated.
Rolling back its own judgment confirming the death penalty awarded to the three men, the Supreme Court accepted their defence of “diminished responsibility” and reasoned that the convicts had not even know their victims and their crime did not deserve the death penalty.
A tri-judge Bench, led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, agreed with defence counsel and senior advocate L. Nageshwar Rao that mobs go berserk and possess a demented sight of what is around them.
The State of Tamil Nadu, the prosecuting agency in the case, represented by advocate Yogesh Kanna, submitted that the Bench should decide the review petition on its merits.
In an earlier hearing on the petition, Mr. Rao had referred to the riots after the killing of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, to argue that the accused, who were part of a rampaging mob, cannot be held fully criminally liable for the crime as their mental capacity were impaired at the time.
The college students - Kokilavani, Gayathri and Hemalatha of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, died when the bus they were travelling in, along with 44 other students and two teachers, was torched on February 2, 2000.
“Mobs go berserk. Reason does not enter their minds. After the judgment at 10.30 am, the agitations had started. There was absolutely no pre-meditation. There was a workshop nearby, they took petrol from there and started sprinkling it on the buses,” Mr. Rao had recounted the events of the fateful day.
Mr. Kumar said the accused were only “looking for some government property to destroy and were not targeting human lives”.
Mr. Rao argued that death was too harsh a punishment as the convicts had no personal animosity towards their victims and were themselves the victims of mob psychology.
The review petition of the three death row convicts – Nedunchezhian, Ravindran and Muniappan – is being heard after a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ordered limited, open court hearing before a three-judge Bench in case of death penalty reviews.
Source: The Hindu, March 12, 2016