New Delhi, Jan 23, 2020: The Supreme Court today spoke out against the possibility of sparing death row convicts the capital punishment on grounds of good behaviour, saying that such a move "would open the floodgates" to similar petitions as to NDTV.
"We know that the possibility of reformation is an important aspect in sentencing. But it will open the floodgates (to such petitions) if we start modifying our orders on the basis of how death row convicts behave in jail," Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said.
The top judge made the observation while reserving his verdict on a petition seeking that the death sentence awarded to a woman and her lover on charges of killing seven of her family members be converted to life imprisonment. The convicts -- Shabnam and Saleem -- were found guilty of murdering the seven, including a 10-month-old baby, in Uttar Pradesh’s Almorah over 10 years ago. A sessions court sentenced the two to death in 2010, and the decision was upheld by the Allahabad High Court three years later. The Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence in 2015.
Observing that the murders were "premeditated and meticulously planned", Chief Justice Bobde said: "Imagine what the state of the criminal justice system will be like if such people are let off. Ensuring the finality of the death sentence is of utmost importance."
Saleem’s counsel, Anand Grover, had argued that his client was "uneducated" at the time of the crime. "However, he has earned a degree in jail and is now studying for his Masters degree. As he is now reformed, we appeal that his sentence be commuted," he said.
Lawyer Meenakshi Arora, who represented Shabnam in court, cited "mitigating circumstances" for her client’s offence and asked the court to reduce the sentence on account of her subsequent reformation.
To this, the Chief Justice said: "Everybody is a pure soul (at birth). Nobody is born criminal."
After committing the crime along with Saleem on April 15, 2008, Shabnam had claimed that her house was attacked by unidentified people. However, an investigation revealed that she had made her family members drink milk laced with sedatives as part of a conspiracy with Saleem before going on to throttle her infant nephew.
Shabnam wanted to get married to Saleem, but was facing stiff opposition from her family.