The Supreme Court on Monday stayed till further orders the execution of death sentence of four aides of sandalwood smuggler Veerappan, who were awarded capital punishment in 2004 for a landmine blast in Karnataka that left 22 police personnel dead. The bench posted the matter for Wednesday.
"In the meantime, the execution of death sentence of four convicts shall remain stayed," a bench comprising Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and justices A R Dave and Vikramajit Sen said. "Let the writ petition be heard day after tomorrow (Wednesday)," it said.
The petition on behalf of the four convicts was filed by advocate Samik Narain, who was given the liberty to amend and rectify it after objections were raised on its maintainability by Attorney General G E Vahanvati who was asked to assist the court.
Vahanvati questioned the maintainability of the petition on technical grounds and said the copy of the petition was neither given to the Centre nor to the Karnataka government till Monday morning.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioners, sought liberty from the bench to form a proper petition in a day or two.
During the brief hearing, the court said if it will issue notice, it will have to hear the matter entirely.
Further, the chief justice said there are two options -- either this bench will have to hear the matter or it will have to refer to the bench which has been seized with the issue of mercy petition.
The bench said hearing this matter may also have a bearing on the petitions filed by the death row convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case against the rejection of their mercy petition.
On February 16, the apex court had refused to give an urgent hearing on the four convicts' plea seeking stay of execution of their death penalty on the ground that there was no proof that the hanging was to take place yesterday i.e. February 17.
Gonsalves had said they had approached the apex court after getting information that the execution of death penalty was scheduled for February 17. He had said he mentioned the matter at the CJI's residence and the CJI told him that it will be taken up for hearing in due course.
Veerappan's elder brother Gnanaprakash, Simon, Meesekar Madaiah and Bilavendran were awarded death sentence in 2004 in connection with a landmine blast at Palar in Karnataka in 1993 in which 22 police personnel were killed.
Their mercy petition was rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee on February 13.
The four convicts are lodged in a jail in Belgaum in Karnataka.
A TADA court in Mysore had in 2001 sentenced them to life term, which was enhanced to death sentence by the apex court. Gang leader Veerappan was killed in an encounter with the Tamil Nadu Police in October 2004.