Indian court commutes death sentences of two serial killers over delayed execution

Sentences reduced to life imprisonment after 'inordinate delay' in carrying out death penalty

The colonial-era structure of the Bombay High Court stands in Bombay, India, Thursday, Aug 26, 2004. Across India, state governments and civic corporations have struck down old names of cities, but that of Bombay High Court remains the same since changing this requires an Act of India's Parliament. Countries like India, China, South Africa, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have experienced re-naming bouts where colonial names have been altered. (AP Photo/Rajesh Nirgude)

Two Indian serial killers on death row for murdering five children had their sentences commuted after a court ruled that the delay in their hanging had violated their fundamental rights.

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday commuted the death sentences of sisters Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit to life imprisonment due to the “inordinate delay” in carrying out their executions.

The sisters were convicted by a sessions court in 2001 of kidnapping 14 children, using them for stealing and killing five of them between 1990 and 1996.

The women later appealed to the Bombay High Court, which upheld the sentences. Their mercy petitions before the state governor and later the president in 2014 were rejected.

But Justices Nitin Jamdar and SV Kotwal commuted their death sentences, holding the state and federal government responsible for causing delays and infringing on their fundamental rights.

The bench ruled that because of the “casual approach” of the state officers, the mercy petitions were not decided on for “seven years, 10 months and 15 days”.

“Though the procedure for deciding the mercy petitions mandates speed and expediency, the state machinery showed indifference and laxity at each stage of processing the files,” the order said.

The judges, however, said that the crimes committed by the convicts were heinous and they will remain at Yerwada Jail in Pune for the rest of their lives.

The horrific details of the crime surfaced in 1996 when the two sisters were arrested, along with their mother and Shinde's husband, Kiran, after police discovered clothes belonging to small children at their home during an investigation into an unrelated matter.

Police found that the sisters, who lived with their mother Anajanabai in Pune, moved across the state kidnapping children, using them as a cover to beg and steal.

During the trial, Mr Shinde admitted guilt and Anajanabai died of an illness in 1998.

Lawyer Manik Mulik, who represented the three women in the case, said that the order was “justice” for the convicts as they had been living in trauma of being “hanged to death” all these years.

“I feel glad that their death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment. For the last seven years, they were living in the fear and trauma of dying every day because there was a delay,” he told The National.

Death sentences in India are usually limited to the cases such as terrorism, waging war against the state and other serious crimes.

In the past, several Indian courts have commuted death sentences to life imprisonment, citing delays in execution as a breach of fundamental rights.

India has as many as 404 prisoners currently on death row, the Delhi-based research and advocacy group Project 39A said.

Updated: January 19, 2022, 5:51 PM