As security around the Hindalaga Central Prison in Belgaum, Karnataka has been tightened, rumours are abuzz that the four associates of forest brigand Veerappan may be hanged on Sunday.
President Pranab Mukherjee recently rejected the mercy petition of the four aides, who had been sentenced to death for killing 22 people in a landmine blast at Palar in Karnataka in 1993.
On Saturday evening, the four associates -- Simon, Gnana Prakash, Madhiah and Bilavandra -- moved the Supreme Court against the death penalty. However, the SC did not take up the plea for hearing saying there is no proof that execution will take place on Sunday, say lawyers of Veerappan's aides.
Speaking on the phone from Bangalore, Deputy Inspector General (Prisons) VS Raja said that the date of execution was confidential and could not be revealed.
One of the members of the team of lawyers defending them, Mumbai-based Yug Mohit Chaudhry, said that lawyers in Belgaum were denied access to the four accused.
Veerappan’s associates were given life imprisonment by a TADA court for the landmine blast, but the Supreme Court had enhanced this to death penalty in 2004.
"Outside the prison, the lawyers were informed that some prisoners are going to be executed the following morning and therefore nobody will be allowed to meet them. They were further informed that preparations are being made for the execution. Presently, the entire area outside the prison has been cordoned off by the police and no movement is being permitted in the vicinity," said Chaudhry.
According to a report in the Deccan Chronicle, the Hindalaga Central Prison is likely to hang three of them one day and the fourth the next as the gallows at the prison have only three hanging ropes.
Raja said that there was no provision to let the lawyers meet the four convicts once the death sentence had been confirmed.
Chaudhry, however, said, "This is complete nonsense. It is their right to ask the court for a judicial review of the rejection of their mercy petition, considering that the rejection took nine years. How are we to file a review petition if we can't meet them and take their signatures on the affidavits?"
The Supreme Court, in Kehar Singh vs Union of India (1989) and in B P Singhal vs Union of India (2010) has held that the orders of the President under Article 72 of the Constitution are subject to judicial review.
The Karnataka high court has stayed the execution of another death row convict, Saibanna, on January 22 on the grounds of delay in deciding on the mercy petition.
Chaudhry also said that according to the jail manual they cannot be hanged before 14 days have passed since the rejection of the mercy petition, but DIG Raja denied this was the case. "An utterly heartless state wants more blood on its hands," said the lawyer.
Delhi-based Manisha Sethi of the Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Association, which has been campaigning against death penalty, said that the government had decided to hang the four convicts only to prove that they had not selectively targeted Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, who was executed last Saturday. "The murder of Afzal Guru is now going to be justified with many more murders," she said.