Mumbai: In a major relief for two Kolhapur sisters whose mercy pleas were recently rejected by the President, the Bombay High Court on Wednesday stayed their execution till disposal of their petition seeking commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment.
Admitting the petition of Renuka Shinde and Anjana Gavit, a division bench of the court also directed the Centre and Maharashtra government to explain within three weeks the reasons for the delay in deciding their mercy petitions.
Observing that the high court had powers under Article 226 of the Constitution to entertain the plea of the sisters who kidnapped children, made them beg and commit petty crimes before killing them, Justices V M Kanade and P D Kode ruled the petition was maintainable.
The court posted the next hearing on September 9 after the state government assured it will not go ahead with the execution of the death sentence awarded to the duo till the time their plea was decided.
"Until such time, the death sentence would be kept in abeyance," the court ruled.
Shinde and Gavit have in their petition contended that the President had taken more than five years to decide their mercy petitions when such a plea should have been disposed of within three months. On this ground alone, their death sentence may be commuted to life term, the duo prayed.
The two sisters were sentenced to death in 2001 for kidnapping 13 children and killing nine of them between 1990 and October 1996. They were assisted in the crime by their mother Anjana Gavit and Renuka`s husband Kiran Shinde. Anjana died in custody, while Kiran turned an approver.
They used to force the children to beg, commit petty thefts and pickpocketing. The children were starved to force them to commit crimes. After having sufficiently used the children in crime, they brutally banged their head against the wall and killed them.
The sisters, who could be the first women convicts to be sent to the gallows since Independence are lodged in Pune`s Yerwada prison and were recently informed about the President`s decision rejecting their mercy petitions. The 14-day buffer period before execution expired on August 16.