Just two hours before he was to be hanged, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court rejected early on Thursday a desperate plea by Yakub Memon's lawyers for staying the 1993 Mumbai blasts convict's death sentence after a dramatic late-night hearing.
This was the second time that the court had cleared Memon's execution in the last 24 hours.
The bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra that started hearing a last-minute plea for deferring Yakub’s execution at 3.20am ruled that the convict was given enough opportunities.
"It will be travesty of justice if the death warrant is stayed in a case of this nature," the court ruled in its verdict delivered at 4.55am.
The order came at the end of the 95-minute open court hearing that saw Yakub's lawyers questioning the government’s hurry to hang the death row convict at 7am and insisting that the mercy petition hurriedly rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee late on Wednesday was the first plea filed by Memon. An earlier mercy plea, rejected by Mukherjee in April 2014, was filed by Memon’s brother last year.
Yakub -- brother of prime accused Tiger Memon -- and 11 others were sentenced to death by a special TADA court in July 2007 for the dozen explosions that ripped through India's financial capital, killing 257 people and leaving more than 1,000 injured.
The only well-educated member of the Memon family was found guilty of criminal conspiracy, arranging money for buying vehicles used by the bombers and organising air tickets to Dubai for some of them.
A disappointed Anand Grover, who represented Yakub, said: "I am very disappointed because I feel the Supreme court has made a tragic mistake by truncating the right off a convict to appeal his death sentence."
Grover said Yakub should have been given 14 days as mandated by the SC to meet family members and settle his will. "We are not on merits. It's over now. I am only seeking 14 days," he argued.
When Justice Misra asked if Yakub wasn’t challenging the rejection of the mercy petition, Grover responded: "I don't have a copy of the rejection order. We need time also to challenge."
India is one of a handful of countries worldwide to still have the death penalty but the rate of executions has slowed down to a trickle in the last two decades. Though hundreds of people are on death row, only three people have been executions have gone ahead in the last 18 years – rapist Dhananjoy Chatterjee in 2004, Mumbai attacks convict Ajmal Kasab in 2012 and Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru in 2013.
Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi said, "There is no question of victory or elation. I have done my duty."
Rohtagi, in court, insisted Memon was abusing the judicial process and there was no distinction between a mercy plea filed by him and his brother.
If you go by Yakub's lawyer's argument, no execution will take place in country, Rohtagi argued, pointing that the death warrant upheld by the Supreme Court on Wednesday could not be quashed just 10 hours later.
Grover, however, insisted that the convict was entitled to avail all legal options available even after rejection of mercy plea and cited a SC verdict that ruled the right to life was available even to a death row convict till his last breath.
Rohtagi responded that if this petition was entertained, it would be a never-ending process.
"Every time a mercy petition is rejected, you will seek 14-day time before execution ...it will be a never ending process. This way, no convict can be executed," he said.
The late-night drama unfolded minutes after Yakub's mercy plea was rejected. A group of senior lawyers -- which included Indira Jaising and Prashant Bhushan -- and activists approached Chief Justice of India HL Dattu, seeking a stay on the execution.
Earlier, President Mukherjee dismissed Yakub’s mercy petition under similarly dramatic circumstances.
Dattu went through the petition and referred the matter to Justice Misra, who headed a three-judge bench which held, earlier in the day, that all rules were duly complied with and Yakub had exhausted all legal options. The three-judge bench -- comprising Misra, Prafulla C Pant and Amitava Roy -- were first set to meet at Misra's residence, but then decided to hear the plea at the Supreme Court.
Home minister Rajnath Singh had driven down to Rashtrapati Bhavan with his recommendation that Yakub’s mercy plea be rejected. It reportedly took some persuasion to get President Mukherjee to accept the recommendation at such a short notice.
Rashtrapati Bhavan – that used to take an average of one month to accept the Centre’s recommendation – ended up clearing Yakub’s rejection within hours to let the government stick to its time-table to hang him at 7am early in Nagpur on Thursday.