The Delhi high court refused on Friday to send cousins Vikas and Vishal Yadav to the gallows for the 2002 murder of young business executive Nitish Katara, but it sentenced them to 30 years of rigorous imprisonment in a case that transfixed the nation.
Nitish, 25, was battered to death in Ghaziabad near Delhi and his corpse burnt as punishment for dating Bharti Yadav, whose father is politician DP Yadav. The victim was attending a friend’s wedding with Bharti when he was abducted and killed by her brother, Vikas, and cousin, Vishal.
A special bench of justices Gita Mittal and JR Midha gave the Yadavs 25 years without remission for the murder and an additional five years for destroying evidence while also imposing a penalty of Rs. 54 lakh each. Rs. 40 lakh will be paid as compensation to Nitish’s mother Neelam Katara, it added.
A third convict in the case, Sukhdev Pehelwan, was sentenced to 25 years in jail with a Rs. 20,000 fine.
The court also noted that Vikas, already a convict in the Jessica Lal murder case, was out on bail when he murdered Nitish.
Given the convict’s history and the fact that the crime was planned as well as the post-crime conduct of the three men in disfiguring and trying to hide the body, “life sentence, which means only 14 years of imprisonment, is grossly inadequate,” it added.
Police found Nitish’s battered and charred body at Khurja, 80km from the wedding venue. Sources said the corpse was so brutally pummelled that the insides had fallen out.
Neelam Katara, who fought a tough battle against a politically-powerful opponent for more than a decade, expressed disappointment at the rejection of her death penalty plea. “I will appeal against the order in the Supreme Court,” she told the media. “No numerical value can be put on my son’s life.”
While refusing Neelam’s plea, the judges said no concrete guidelines had been set for sentencing in an honour killing case yet. The court was also hearing pleas of leniency from the three convicts following a trial court verdict.
“This very factor that on the same, that on very similar facts, variable sentences are possible also dissuades us from invoking our jurisdiction in imposing the death sentence in the present case,” the bench said.
The most distressing part of the killing, said the court, was the convicts’ conscious choice to opt as to which one, of the two partners in the relationship, they would eliminate.
“They… (spared) the life of Bharti Yadav (whom they) perceived as their own,” said the judges.