The Supreme Court bench of justices Dipak Misra, R.Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan, dismissed on July 7 the review petitions filed by death-row convicts, lodged in Patiala Central Jail, Vikram Singh @ Vicky Walia and Jasvir Singh.
The two were convicted and sentenced to death for the offence of kidnapping Abhi Verma alias Harry, a school student, in Hoshiarpur, and killing him with an anesthesia overdose in 2005. The Supreme Court had confirmed their death sentences in 2010, although it commuted the death sentence of the co-accused, Singh’s wife, Sonia, to life imprisonment.
As their review petitions were dismissed earlier by circulation in 2011, they got the benefit of reopening their review petitions in open court in terms of the Constitution Bench judgment in Mohd. Arif case in 2014. The inordinate delay in applying for the relief by the convicts was condoned by the Supreme Court, before it agreed to hear their review petitions afresh in open court by a three-Judge bench.
Senior advocate, K.T.S.Tulsi appeared for Vikram Singh whereas Tripurari Ray, advocate, represented Jasvir Singh. V. Madhukar, Additional Advocate General, appeared for Punjab. Anvita Cowshish appeared for complainant.
The Supreme Court reasoned that by review application an applicant cannot be allowed to re-argue the appeal on the grounds which were urged at the time of the hearing of the criminal appeal.
“Even if the applicant succeeds in establishing that there may be another view possible on the conviction or sentence of the accused that is not a sufficient ground for review. This Court shall exercise its jurisdiction to review only when a glaring omission or patent mistake has crept in earlier decision due to judicial fallibility”, the bench held in its judgment.
The counsel for the convicts argued that the conversation recorded by the complainant, carrying ransom calls, was relied on without there being any certificate under Section 65B of the Evidence Act, 1872. The bench rejected this on the ground that the tape-recorded conversation was the original cassette, and Section 65B only requires certificate for secondary evidence of electronic record.
Secondly, it was argued that as the death was caused due to overdose of chloroform and pentazocine poisoning, the conviction ought to have been under Section 304A IPC, and not under Section 302 IPC. The bench, however, disagreed saying the conviction was based on cogent, ocular and medical evidence, and there no apparent error on the face of the record in recording the conviction of the appellants under Sections 302 and 364A.
The contention that the disclosure statement of Jasvir Singh, which led to the recovery of the dead body, does not connect Vikram Singh with the crime, was also rejected by the bench which pointed to the ocular evidence against the latter.
Tulsi contended that the courts’ reliance on Vikram Singh’s finger prints on the cars used for the crime was itself insufficient, as the cars did not belong to him. The bench rejected this too.
The bench simply dismissed other arguments on sentencing, on the ground that they do not reveal any error apparent on the face of the record.
Precedents not followed
The judgment reveals that the Court did not follow its own precedents on commuting death sentence to life imprisonment in kidnapping and murder cases. In both Santosh Bariyar (2009 6 SCC 498) and Ranjeet Kumar Ram (2015 SCC online SC 500), the Supreme Court had commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment, by invoking the crime and criminal tests.
The bench did not answer the argument that the crime test was not met, as it was not diabolical or brutal. The criminal test pointing to the young age of the convicts, at the time of the commission of the offence, was also not considered. Vikram was 24 and Jasvir was 26 in 2005.
Their lack of criminal antecedents, and absence of adverse prison record were also ignored by the bench, although they were highlighted in the written submissions. That the state had not submitted any evidence that the convicts were beyond reform, as required by the Supreme Court’s judgment in Bachan Singh (1980), was also not given due weight by the bench.
The convicts have also filed writ petitions in Punjab and Haryana High Court challenging the rejection of their mercy petitions by the President, Pranab Mukherjee on August 7 last year. The writ petitions are listed for hearing on July 21.