India – After more than a decade on death row, Supreme Court finds six nomadic tribe members innocent

A decade after condemning to death six nomadic tribe members for murder and rape, SC finds them innocent

A view of the Supreme Court in New Delhi A view of the Supreme Court in New Delhi   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Holds case foisted on the men. Directs Maharashtra Chief Secretary to take action against the probe officers

Ten years after after condemning to death six nomadic tribe members in a rape and murder case, the Supreme Court on Tuesday found them innocent and ordered the Maharshtra Police to hunt down the real criminals.

In a complete volte-face, the apex court ordered the immediate release of Ankush Maruti Shinde, Rajya Appa Shinde, Ambadas Laxman Shinde, Raju Mhasu Shinde, Bapu Appa Sinde and Surya alias Suresh for the murder of five members of a family, rape of a woman and her 15-year-old daughter and dacoity in Nashik.

They had spent over 16 years in jail in anticipation of death. The court said the six men were falsely implicated and roped in by the police. One of the six was a juvenile at the time of his arrest. Some of them have developed psychiatric symptoms due to the long years in solitary confinement. They had not been eligible for pardon or furlough as they were condemned men.

The apex court Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri, S. Abdul Nazeer and M.R. Shah specifically takes the case of Ankush Maruti Shinde, who was subsequently found to be a juvenile.

“Dr. Ashit Sheth, Shinde’s psychiatrist, clearly opined that he lived under sub-human conditions for several years. He was kept in isolation in solitary confinement with very restricted human contact and under perpetual fear of death. He was only allowed to meet his mother, and that too only infrequently. He was not even allowed to mix with other prisoners. Therefore, all the accused remained under constant stress and in the perpetual fear of death,” Justice Shah described.

The court ordered the Maharashtra government to pay each of the six men a compensation of ₹5 lakh.

The court turned its ire on the State Police force for trauma it unleashed on the men, who belonged to both socially and financially backward communities. The court highlighted how the police did not bother to even investigate the fact that an eye-witnesses had, immediately after the crime was committed, identified four other men from the rogues’ gallery as the perpetrators of the crime. There has been no effort from the side of the police made to find these four men. The court ordered the Maharashtra Chief Secretary to take disciplinary action against the probe officers within three months.

The acquittal of the six men is, however, a U-turn for the Supreme Court too. In 2009, the court had dismissed their appeals and found them all guilty enough to be sent to the gallows.

However, luck changed for the six men when they filed their review petitions against the 2009 judgment. In October 2018, the court decided to recall its 2009 verdict and hear their appeals afresh. This change of mind by the court has now finally proved their innocence. – The Hindu, 5/3/2019

SC Finally Corrects The Error: Acquits Six Persons Sentenced To Death By A 2009 Judgment

[Read Judgment] By: LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK 5 March 2019 3:51 PM
The Supreme Court on Monday acquitted three persons who were sentenced to death by it in 2009, and also three others whose death penalty was confirmed by it.
The bench comprising Justice AK Sikri, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice MR Shah, also ordered the State of Maharashtra to pay Rupees 5 Lakh as damages to each of them.
Ankush Maruti Shinde, Rajya Appa Shinde, Ambadas Laxman Shinde, Raju Mhasu Shinde, Bapu Appa Shinde and Surya alias Suresh were accused of committing five murders and raping a lady (who survived) and a child of 15 years of age (who died).
The Trial Court convicted all of them and sentenced them to death.
In the appeals filed by them, the Bombay High Court set aside death penalty awarded to three of them and instead sentenced them to life imprisonment. While for the remaining three, the death sentence was confirmed.
The Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice Mukundakam Sharma, in 2009, not only dismissed the appeals filed by the three whose death sentence was confirmed by the High court, but also allowed State’s appeal and sentenced the other three to death sentence.
The Supreme Court had found the crime to be cruel and diabolic. It had observed that the collective conscience of the community was shocked; the victims were of a tender age and defenseless; the victims had no animosity towards the accused and the attack against them was unprovoked. Considering these factors,it had awarded the death penalty to all the accused .
In 2010, review petitions filed by three accused were dismissed by the Supreme Court.
In February 2014, a bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and Ibrahim Kalifulla admitted the review petitions filed by the other three death convicts, accepting the arguments of Senior Advocate Soli Sorabjee that it was decided relying on a wrong precedent- Ravji alias Ram Chandra v. State of Rajasthan [(1996) 2 SCC 175]. It was argued that Ravji’s case and the six subsequent cases in which Ravji was followed were decided per incuriam, as the law laid down therein is contrary to the law laid by the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Bachan Singh.
In 2016, the three accused, whose review petitions were dismissed in 2009, filed applications for reopening the review petitions, in the light of constitution bench judgment in Mohd. Arif v Registrar, Supreme Court of India.
In October 2018, considering the review petitions and the applications, a three Judge Bench headed by Justice Kurian Joseph had recalled the 2009 Judgment and the Appeals were restored.

Back to life: on the belated acquittal of death row convicts

Belated acquittal of death row convicts highlights the need to junk the death penalty

It is a tale of Kafkaesque horror. Six members of a nomadic tribe spent 16 years in prison in Maharashtra; three of them were on death row for 13 of these years, while the other three faced the gallows for nearly a decade. One of them was a juvenile at the time of the offence. And all this for a crime they did not commit. The only silver lining for the six convicts is that even though 10 years had elapsed since the Supreme Court imposed the death penalty on them, the sentence was not carried out. Hearing on their review petitions became an occasion for another Bench of the Supreme Court to revisit the 2009 verdict. A three-judge Bench has now found that unreliable testimony had been used to convict the six men. One of the two eyewitnesses had identified four others from police files as members of the gang that had raided their hut in 2003, but these four were not apprehended. The gang had stolen ₹3,000 and some ornaments, killed five members of the family, including a 15-year-old girl, who was also raped. It is possible that the heinous nature of the crime had influenced the outcome of the case. The belief that condign punishment is necessary for rendering complete justice could be behind courts brushing aside discrepancies or improvements in the evidence provided by witnesses. On a fresh hearing of the appeals, the court has concluded that the accused, who were roped in as accused in this case after being found to be involved in an unrelated crime elsewhere, were innocent.

The case, in itself, holds a strong argument against the retention of the death penalty on the statute book. Had the sentence against these six been carried out, the truth would have been buried with them. In recent years, the Supreme Court has been limiting the scope for resorting to the death penalty by a series of judgments that recognise the rights of death row convicts. A few years ago it ruled that review petitions in cases of death sentence should be heard in open court. In a country notorious for “the law’s delay”, it is inevitable that the long wait on death row, either for a review hearing or for the disposal of a mercy petition, could ultimately redound to the benefit of the convicts and their death sentences altered to life terms. In a system that many say favours the affluent and the influential, the likelihood of institutional bias against the socially and economically weak is quite high. Also, there is a perception that the way the “rarest of rare cases” norm is applied by various courts is arbitrary and inconsistent. The clamour for justice often becomes a call for the maximum sentence. In that sense, every death sentence throws up a moral dilemma on whether the truth has been sufficiently established. The only way out of this is the abolition of the death penalty altogether. – The Hindu, Editorial, 7/3/2019

India – Cabinet approves death penalty for aggravated sexual assault of children

Cabinet okays death penalty for aggravated sexual assault of children

To curb child pornography, the amendment levies heavy fine for not deleting, destroying child pornographic material. Not reporting child pornography will also invite a hefty fine, the minister said.

INDIA Updated: Dec 28, 2018 23:22 IST

Anisha Dutta
Anisha Dutta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Ravi Shankar prasad,Cabinet briefing,Modi govt
The Union Cabinet on Friday approved death penalty for aggravated sexual abuse of children as part of amendments to make the law governing crimes against children more stringent(Reuters/Representative Image)

Child sexual assault will be punishable with death sentence under amendments to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, approved by the Union cabinet on Friday at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The amendments seek to make the law gender-neutral and sharpen its deterrent edge.

The death penalty will apply to cases of aggravated penetrative sexual assault on children below 12 years of age. Section 4 of the POCSO Act, which deals with punishment for penetrative sexual assault, now prescribes a sentence that’s not less than seven years in jail and may be extended to life imprisonment as the maximum punishment. The proposed amendments increase minimum imprisonment to 10 years which may extend to imprisonment for life.

Section 6 of the Act has been amended to read: “Whoever commits aggravated penetrative sexual assault shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 20 years but which may extend to imprisonment for life which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life and shall also be liable to fine or with death”.

The death penalty will apply to cases of aggravated sexual assault, which refers to rape and gang rape.

“In the wake of gruesome and heart wrenching incidences, there has been a growing demand from the society to arrest the disturbing trend (of child sexual assault) by introducing stringent punishment including death penalty for the rape cases, “the ministry of women and child development said in a proposal to the cabinet, a copy of which has been reviewed by Hindustan Times.

The cabinet approved amendments in sections 4, 5, 6, 9, 14, 15 and 42 of the POCSO Act. “The modification is made to address the need for stringent measures required to deter the rising trend of child sex abuse in the country,” the cabinet said in a statement.

This is an initiative to strengthen the entire POCSO architecture and also enhance it to ensure that medicines or hormones are not be abused to destroy the childhood of innocents, said Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who briefed reporters on the Cabinet decisions.

The POCSO Act, 2012 was enacted to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and to safeguard their interests and well-being. The Act defined a child as any person below eighteen years of age. Certain sections of the Act, however, were not gender-neutral and applied only to female victims. The amendments seek to correct that.

“Government has always strived to seek justice for all the survivors of child sexual abuse, the most vulnerable section of society. I am extremely grateful to Modi and the cabinet for this momentous step in protecting children against abuse and harassment,” minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi said.

In cases of aggravated sexual assault, under section 5, the government also added a clause to include children sexually exploited in the course of communal or sectarian violence, or during a situation of natural calamity.

“Immediately after the earthquake in 2015, Nepal Government suspended International adoption, banned children from travelling without parents or guardians, and suspended the registration of new orphanages, yet in the following three months 513 children and women at the risk of being trafficked were intercepted. There were also reports of rape of young girls including a Kedarnath deluge survivor, in the media. Therefore, apart from the sectarian violence, natural calamity has been included,” the WCD ministry noted in its proposal.

The cabinet also approved an amendment to address child pornography. It proposed a fine for not destroying/or deleting/ or reporting pornographic material involving a child. The person can be penalized with a jail term or fine or both for transmitting/propagating/administrating such material in any manner except for the purpose of reporting it to the authorities.

Not everyone is convinced that the death sentence will deter sexual crimes against children, and there is concern that it may deter the reporting of such offences .

“To protect children, we need better implementation of existing laws, budgetary provision and strategic moves to create awareness among communities and children on the issues of child protection,” said Priti Mahara, director of policy, research and advocacy, Child Rights and You, a non-government organisation.

“We need robust victim and witness protection system, support system for victim and families during and after the trials. 94.6% of the cases of sexual offence perpetrators are known to the victims, and therefore – because of the familiarity of the child with the offender – the bigger worry is that capital punishment may serve to deter the reporting of cases. It may even lead to destruction of evidence by murdering the victim,” Mahara added. – Hindustan Times, 28/12/2018

India – Death Penalty for Rape of Girl below 12 years approved by President

Law Allowing Death Penalty For Rape Of Children Cleared By President

The Home Ministry drafted Criminal Law (Amendment) Act stipulates stringent punishment for perpetrators of rape, particularly of girls below 16 and 12 years.