Rejecting the plea for death penalty, the apex court in its order said, ‘It’s just a murder; that’s it.’
Vikas and Vishal Yadav, serving 30 years jail term for brutally killing Nitish Katara in 2002, on Friday escaped death penalty, with the Supreme Court ruling it out, rejecting the plea of the victim’s mother Neelam Katara who termed it as a ‘rarest of rare’ crime.
“What they (Yadavs) did cannot be condoned, but it (the offence) is not so heinous and abhorring that warrants death,” a bench of justices J S Khehar and R Banumathi said.
The bench, which had recently dismissed the special leave petitions of Vikas, Vishal and Sukhdev Pehalwan against the Delhi high court verdict in the case, did not agree with the submission of senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Neelam Katara, that the two convicts deserved death penalty.
“I don’t see it as honour killing,” the bench observed at the outset when Salve opened arguments on the plea seeking enhancement of the sentence, saying that the high court had held it as the honour killing.
“I am asking for death penalty,” the senior lawyer said, adding that the convicts, who were educated and hailed from “good families”, had killed the youth in pre-meditated and brutal manner and mutilated the body before burning it.
The court said that the convict’s sister Bharti Yadav had even gone to the victim’s house to deliver the invitation card of her sister’s wedding and it cannot be said that the family of the convicts did not approve the relationship.
Perhaps, the “trigger” was the moment when the convicts saw her dancing with Nitish and took him away and killed him, the court said, adding that every murder is brutal but it is difficult to say it is “abhorring”.
“It was just a murder. That is it... They (convicts) have also suffered the sentence for 16 years,” it said, adding that the manner of disposal of the body fell under the IPC provision dealing with destruction of evidence.
Vikas, 39, Vishal, 37, and Sukhdev, 40 are serving life terms awarded by the lower court in May 2008 for abducting and killing Katara, a business executive and the son of a railway officer, on the night of February 16-17, 2002, as they opposed the victim’s affair with Bharti, daughter of Uttar Pradesh politician D P Yadav.
Neelam Katara, in her plea, had elaborated on the reason and manner of the offence and sought death penalty for the killers of her son.
“The notion of ‘rarest of rare’ crime is that of categorisation of the offence based on its degree of brutality and its tendency to shock societal conscience -- not that the
nature of the crime shows that it is rarely committed,” she said, attempting to point out the process in which the high court had ended up awarding lesser punishment.
“Those who practise honour killings have to be eliminated from society in order to demonstrate complete intolerance to these abhorrent practices. Applying this yardstick, the only sufficient punishment, considering the overwhelming evidence on the basis of which the accused have been convicted, was the death penalty.”
Earlier, the apex court, on August 17, had upheld the conviction of Vikas Yadav, his cousin Vishal and Sukhdev Pehalwan in the case.
The court, which upheld the findings of the trial court and the Delhi high court without issuing notices on the appeals of Vikas and Sukhdev, had agreed to consider the limited aspect relating to enhancement of quantum of sentence of the three convicts by the high court.
The HC had termed the award of life term “simplicitor” to the convicts as inconsequential and enhanced the life term of three convicts -- Vikas and Vishal Yadav to 30 years imprisonment and 25 years incarceration to Sukhdev Yadav alias Pehelwan -- without the benefit of remission.
The high court had on April 2, 2014, upheld the verdict of the lower court in the case by describing the offence as “honour killing” stemming from a “deeply-entrenched belief” in caste system.