The hanging of Yakub Memon, convicted in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case, may be delayed now even though the Supreme Court has rejected his mercy plea, paving the way for his execution.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India HL Dattu on Tuesday dismissed the curative petition from Memon who was awarded the death penalty in 2007 by a Mumbai court that found him guilty of playing a key role in the bombings.
Memon was scheduled to be executed on July 30, the day he turns 53, but the hanging may be delayed as he filed a personal mercy petition with the President hours after the Supreme Court turned down his plea.
He handed over his mercy petition to the authorities of the Central Prison, Nagpur on Tuesday for being forwarded to the President. The earlier mercy petition, which was rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee in April 2014, was filed by his brother Suleiman Memon.
Even if his fresh mercy plea is rejected by the President, Yakub Memon can not be hanged on July 30 in view of a Supreme Court verdict that prescribes a 14-day gap between rejection of mercy plea of a death row convict and his execution.
“It is necessary that a minimum period of 14 days be stipulated between the receipt of communication of the rejection of the mercy petition and the scheduled date of execution,” the SC said in a landmark verdict in January 2014.
“This would allow the prisoner to prepare himself mentally for execution and have a final meeting with his family members. It is for the jail superintendent to see that the family members of the convict receive the communication rejection of mercy petition in time,” a three-judge bench headed by then CJI P Sathasivam had said.
Memon is the only convict sentenced to death for the dozen blasts that ripped through India’s financial capital, killing nearly 260 people at separate landmarks, including the Bombay Stock Exchange, the Air India building and two crowded bazaars.
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said the state administration was prepared for the execution and there would be no change in the place and date of the hanging.
But legal experts said the state might not be able to execute Memon on July 30 as they would have to give him all possible legal options in line with an a January 2014 Supreme Court verdict that ruled there should be 14-day gap between a rejection of a mercy plea and execution.
Memon, a trained chartered accountant, said in his appeal he was suffering from schizophrenia since 1996 and sought commutation of the death penalty on the ground that a convict cannot be awarded a life term and the extreme penalty simultaneously for the same offence. He alsochallenged his death sentence on the grounds that while he could be held guilty of conspiracy, he was not involved in executing the blasts.
But the Supreme Court ruled that its judgment which convicted him did not violate the principles of natural justice and he had participated in all the legal proceedings. President Pranab Mukherjee had earlier rejected his mercy petition in May 2014.
Hindustan Times reported last week that the Maharashtra government planned to hang Yakub Memon at the Nagpur jail on July 30 if the Supreme Court turned down his appeal. The state initiated the process to execute him after the top court on April 9 rejected a petition seeking a review of the death sentence by a trial court.
Yakub’s fresh plea for mercy will first be put before the state governor, C Vidyasagar Rao, and will then be sent to the home ministry which will forward it to the President.
Memon, who has spent over a decade behind bars, is the younger brother of blasts’ mastermind Tiger Memon who remains on the run. Underworld gangster Dawood Ibrahim, another key conspirator in the attacks, too, is yet to be caught, while actor Sanjay Dutt is serving time after being convicted of buying weapons from those accused in the blasts.
Indian investigators have accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI of aiding the plotters, an allegation that Islamabad has denied. Both Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim are believed to be hiding in Pakistan. While others originally charged in connection with the terror strike had their sentences reduced to life imprisonment in 2013, the top court found Yakub Memon to be the “driving spirit” behind the attacks and upheld the 2007 death penalty.
The last hanging at the Nagpur jail was carried out in 1984 when two brothers from neighbouring Amravati district were put to death for murder, while the most recent execution in the state was that of 26/11 terror attack convict Ajmal Kasab in 2012 at Pune’s Yerawada jail. The search for a hangman is reportedly on though state government sources say it will not be a problem.