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President Patil saved rapist murderers from death penalty

Pratibha Patil commuted several death sentences to life before retirement.


Pratibha Patil, former President of India

ratibha Patil, when she was President, commuted the death sentences of seven rapist-murderers to life imprisonment following the mercy petitions filed by them. All their mercy petitions were accepted on the recommendation of the Ministry of Home Affairs, then headed by P. Chidambaram. These criminals are Dharmendra Singh, Narendra Yadav, Bantu and Satish (Uttar Pradesh); Molai Ram, Santosh Yadav (Madhya Pradesh); and Bandu Baburao Tidake (Karnataka). Following is the list of their crimes for which they were given death.

Dharmendra Singh and Narendra Yadav (UP): Dharmendra Singh and Narendra Yadav of Agra were convicted for killing five members of a family, including three minors, in 1994. The dispute started over property. One Chandra Mohan had purchased 13.5 bigha land and half a haveli from Dharmendra's grandfather. The other half of the haveli was used by Dharmendra, who was not happy with the co-ownership. Chandra Mohan's niece Rita (15), was often teased by Dharmendra's friend Narendra, but she did not return his advances. Chandra Mohan once gave a thrashing to Narendra, which led to increased bitterness between Dharmendra and Chandra Mohan. Subsequently, Narendra hatched a conspiracy with Dharmendra to rape Rita and kill the family members. The duo killed Chandra Mohan and five others on the night of 26 May 1994. Rita was molested before the murder.

The Supreme Court held the crime to be "ghastly, premeditated, and one which fell in the rarest of the rare category". In 2004, the then Home Minister L.K. Advani rejected the mercy appeal. But P. Chidambaram's MHA recommended that, "This was a crime driven by greed, lust and family feud, not uncommon in many parts of India. Having regard to all the factors, especially their age and the fact that both have been in the prison for 15 years, home minister has opined that it would be appropriate to commute the sentence of death of one of life imprisonment."

To justify why death should be converted to life, the Home Ministry said about one case, “This was a crime driven by greed, lust and family feud, not uncommon in many parts of India.”

Molai Ram and Santosh Yadav (Madhya Pradesh): Molai Ram was on duty as a guard at jailor R.S. Somvanshi's quarter in Central Jail, Rewa (MP) on 20 February 1996. One Santosh Yadav, who was serving a rape sentence in the prison, was asked to do some work in the garden of the jail quarters. Somvanshi's daughter Naveen (16) was alone at home as her father had left for work while her mother had gone to her parents' house along with her son. The two raped Naveen, a student of Class X. After committing the crime, they killed her and threw the body in a septic tank in a nearby cattleshed. Her body was recovered the next day. It was found that she had died of strangulation and stab injuries. The two were given death in 1999.

Satish (UP): In August 2001, a man named Satish raped a six-year-old girl Vishakha and then killed her. The girl, a student of Meerut's Sarvodaya School, had left home for school on 16 August 2001, but did not return. Her body was discovered from a sugarcane field the next morning. Satish was seen by eyewitnesses as riding a bicycle with the little girl seated on the handlebar the day the girl disappeared. The case was considered to belong to the "rarest of rare category" and Satish was given a death sentence in February 2005.

Bandu Baburao Tidke (Karnataka): Tidke was a sugarcane cutter in Maharashtra's Beed. He came to Hullyal in Karnataka's Bagalkot district in 2002 where he stayed at an ashram, posing as a swami. The same year, he dragged a 12-year-old school girl to his room, raped her and killed her. He then escaped to Shirdi, leaving her body there. He was arrested the same year. He was given the death sentence in 2005 by the Bagalkot district court and sent to Hindalga jail in Belgam. Patil took the decision to pardon him in June this year. But it came to light that Tidke had died at the government hospital in Belgam on 18 October 2007. He was suffering from AIDS.

Bantu (UP): In this case the victim was a five-year-old girl, Vaishali. On 4 October 2003, one Naresh Kumar, his brother Vishal and niece Vaishali were attending a "Devi Jagran" in village Basai Khurd in Agra district. Naresh Kumar's neighbour Bantu was there too. He took out the child saying he would give her a balloon. When Vaishali did not return for a long time, a search was launched for her. Vaishali and Bantu were found next to a pond at 9.30 pm. Bantu was caught in a naked state. He had raped and repeatedly tortured Vaishali in the worst possible way. She was rushed to a hospital but was declared brought dead.

Bantu was given death by the trial court, a judgement that was upheld by the high court and the Supreme Court.

During Patil's tenure, the Ministry of Home Affairs commuted to life the death sentences of 35 criminals involved in 19 cases. In June, a Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesperson had said: "Article 72 does confer on the President the power to grant clemency. However, in the exercise of these powers, the President is not supposed to act on her own judgment but is mandated to act in accordance with the aid and advice of the government, which is binding on the Head of State... Thus the power to pardon is a part of the constitutional scheme and not a private act of grace on part of the President."

Patil's predecessor A.P.J. Abdul Kalam decided on only two mercy petitions. In 2004, he rejected the petition of rape convict Dhananjoy Chatterjee and two years later, he converted one Kheraj Ram's death to life imprisonment. However, former President K.R. Narayanan did not clear any mercy petitions. The last execution in India was carried out in Kolkata in 2004 when Dhananjoy Chatterjee, convicted of raping and killing a school girl, was hanged. Before that, Jasbir Singh (Billa) and Kuljeet Singh (Ranga) were the only two persons to have been executed, for their involvement in rape as well as murder. The two were hanged in 1982.

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