The Bombay High Court on Monday commuted the death penalty of two convicts in the 2007 Pune BPO gang-rape and murder case to life imprisonment on the ground that there had been an inordinate delay in executing them.
The convicts, Purushottam Borate and Pradeep Kokade, were to be executed on June 24, but the high court had said on June 21 that the execution should not take place as scheduled until further orders.
A division bench of Justices B P Dharmadhikari and Swapna Joshi on Monday allowed the petitions filed by the convicts seeking a stay on the execution of their death warrant.
"Their sentences are commuted," the court said.
The convicts' lawyer, Yug Chaudhary, told reporters the court had said in the judgement that the duo should be in prison for a period of 35 years after taking into account the time already spent and remission.
The court accepted the contention of the petitioners that there has been an inordinate delay by the authorities concerned in executing their sentence, Mr Chaudhary said.
On November 1, 2007, a Wipro BPO employee got into the regular cab contracted by the company to report for her night duty in a Pune suburb.
Cab driver Borate, accompanied by his friend Kokade, changed the route and took her to a remote place, where she was raped and strangled with her dupatta by the two. They also disfigured her face to conceal her identity.
The duo was convicted and awarded death penalty by a sessions court in March 2012 for kidnapping, raping and murdering the woman.
In September 2012, the high court confirmed the punishment and the verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court in May 2015. The Maharashtra governor and the President had rejected their mercy petitions in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
A sessions court in Pune had on April 10 issued warrants setting June 24 as the date of execution.
In the petitions filed in May, the duo sought a stay on the ground that there had been inordinate delay in deciding their mercy petitions by the Maharashtra governor and the President, and also in issuance of the warrants for execution of the death penalty.
They also sought for the death penalty to be commuted to life imprisonment, claiming "inordinate delay" in executing them violated their fundamental rights.
"Excessive and unexplained delay of over four years (1,509 days) in execution of the sentence of death causes unnecessary and unavoidable pain, suffering and mental torment that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment violative of Article 21 (right to life)," the duo had said in the petitions.
The state government, seeking dismissal of the petitions, had said that while considering the rights of the convicts, the rights of the victim's family and the collective conscience of the society would also have to be kept in mind.