New Delhi, Feb 17: Four associates of slain forest brigand Veerappan are waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether they should be hanged without delay for killing 22 police personnel and Forest officials in Karnataka 20 years ago.
President Pranab Mukherjee rejected their mercy petitions on Feb 13. Now the only hope for Veerappan's brother Gnanaprakash, Bilavendran, Meesekar Madaiah and Simon is the apex court ordering a stay on their hanging.
The four convicts currently lodged in the Belgaum jail were found to be responsible for a landmine blast at Palar, Karnataka, back in April 1993. Since a large number of policemen and Forest personnel died in the blast, a TADA court in Mysore awarded life imprisonment to the convicts in 2001.
When the Karnataka government appealed against the verdict, the Supreme Court enhanced their punishment to the death penalty. The President's Secretariat first toook up the case of the convicts in 2005. It was reviewed in May 2011. Earlier this week, the President decided to reject the four mercy pleas.
On Saturday, the convicts filed a petition under Article 32 and cited "information" from sources in the Belgaum jail about the gallows being prepared for their execution on Sunday morning.
The Supreme Court pointed out that there is no proof to substantiate the claim and the petitoners are merely acting on "hearsay". Refusing their plea for an urgent hearing, the court said that the petition can well be heard later.
On Sunday, Kannada news channels reported that all the four convicts have been found to be medically fit. Since those on the death row cannot be hanged if they are suffering from some disease, this means that the jail authorities are getting ready for simultaneous executions.
It will be the first time in nearly 30 years that a convict is put to death in the Belgaum jail. The last hanging there took place in 1983.
The convicts were part of Veerappan's dreaded gang. The notorious sandalwood smuggler was killed by the Special Task Force of the Tamil Nadu police on Oct 18, 2004.