New Delhi: Amid the controversy over the hanging of Afzal Guru, Chief Justice of India(CJI) Altamas Kabir on Sunday said the families of death row convicts should be informed in advance about their execution. However, he sought to play down the controversy on the issue saying the past incidents should not be raked up again. "Procedure as has been in the past, they should have been informed and as far as I know, steps were taken to inform them," the CJI said in response to a question about keeping families of death row convicts informed in time about their execution.
The CJI's remarks came against the backdrop of the family of Guru, the 2001 Parliament attack convict, not being informed about his hanging in due time. The communication regarding the rejection of Guru's mercy plea and his subsequent execution had reached his relatives two days after he was hanged on February 9.
The CJI along with Law Minister Ashwani Kumar was addressing a joint press conference after the conclusion of a conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts in Delhi. "The Law Minister has rightly said these are the issues which have already taken place in the past and I think these things should not be raked up again today. But yes, the principle has always been that the family members were told about when the things would happen," Justice Kabir said.
However, Kumar preferred not to be dragged into the controversy and said, "I do not think that my personal opinion matters...as a Law Minister, I will rather comment on things that will happen in future not what has happened in the past. These are matters which are very subjective. I would rather not comment." Further, he said the issue of mercy petitions is pending before the apex court and he would not like to comment on sub-judice matter.
"Postmortems can be unending. I am not going to comment on what were or were not the shortcomings. As far as the present batch of petitions are concerned that matter is before the Supreme Court. It is sub-judice. I will certainly not comment on that," he said. The Law Minister was specifically asked whether Guru's family should also have been given an opportunity to approach court for stay of his execution. He also said he cannot speak about delays in deciding the mercy petitions in the past but "there should not be delay in disposing the mercy petitions."
However, Justice Kabir, without going into the debate over delays, said, "If a death penalty were to be awarded and it is there under the system then the quicker things are done the better it is for everybody." The comments by Justice Kabir and Kumar also came against the backdrop of rejection of mercy petitions of slain forest brigand Veerappan's four associates and the Supreme Court staying their hanging and also the apex court staying the execution of eight death row prisoners on Saturday evening.