Revisiting a late-night hearing to save Memon from hanging
Hanged at the Nagpur Central Jail at 7am on Thursday, 1993 Mumbai blasts case convict Yakub Memon held on to hope until two hours before he walked to the gallows.
It was an unprecedented all-night drama that started with President Pranab Mukherjee rejecting the convict’s mercy plea. Before midnight word spread of Memon’s lawyers approaching Chief Justice of India HL Dattu at his residence again to obtain a stay on the execution. As a crowd formed outside the CJI's residence, police stepped up security and put up barricades to restrict vehicular movement.
Immediately after 2am, lawyers Prashant Bhushan, Vrinda Grover, journalists and activists thronged Court No. 4 of the Supreme Court after CJI Dattu told them the case would be heard by a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra.
An hour later, when attorney general Mukul Rohtagi rushed in, everyone but the judges were seated and whispers of a possible outcome were in the air. The AG later told HT, “I got a call from the secretary general of the SC that there is an urgent hearing of Memon’s plea at 2.30am.”
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There were more journalists than lawyers in the courtroom, with many scribes showing up bedraggled and bleary-eyed in their bedside slippers.
As senior advocate Anand Grover stood up to address the bench on behalf of Memon, there was pin drop silence in the courtroom.
“Right to life is available to even a death row convict till his last breath,” he said, making his point for a stay order on the execution. But, barely a few minutes into his argument, Grover conceded that "it's over now”. He was only seeking 14 days in accordance with a 2014 Supreme Court verdict for Memon to settle his affairs and for his family members to have some modicum of closure.
Grover’s submissions were vehemently countered by the AG who said if the convict’s petition was entertained at this juncture, it would set a bad precedent. “If this petition is entertained, it will be a never-ending process. This way no convict can be executed,” he said.
Ninety five minutes later, the bench comprising the same judges who on Wednesday upheld the death warrant issued by the Maharashtra government refused to stay the hanging. The lawyers exited the court in the wee hours. Memon would be hanged for sure, they knew.
“There is no question of victory or elation. I have done my duty," the AG told HT.
It was a “sad day”, said Grover even as the sun rose on what would be the last morning of his client’s life.