Millennium Post

Nithari: Surinder Koli’s death sentence commuted to life

A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P K S Baghel passed the order while allowing a PIL filed by People's Union for Democratic Rights, clubbed together with another petition filed by Koli himself.

Both the petitions had questioned the constitutionality of the execution of the death sentence in the light of the fact that Koli has been in jail for more than seven years and that the time taken in deciding his mercy petition alone was "three years and three months", violative of the Right to Life granted in Article 21 of the Constitution.

Koli, named as prime accused in the murder of a number of children at Nithari village in Gautam Buddh district, was awarded death sentence for the murder of 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar by a special CBI court in Ghaziabad on February 13, 2009.

The incident came to light in December 2006, when many children from Nithari went missing over a period of time and skeletons were recovered from near the residence of Koli's employee, Noida-based businessman Moninder Singh Pandher.

Coming down heavily on the state government, the high court noted that out of the three years and three months which elapsed in deciding Koli's mercy petition, "as many as 26 months" were taken up by the Uttar Pradesh government itself, which was "unnecessary and unreasonable".

"Once the judgement is pronounced and the death penalty attains finality, the execution must be at the earliest without unreasonable delay," the court said, adding "prolonged detention and the consequent wait for execution of death sentence is dehumanising for the person concerned and violates Article 21 of the Constitution".

Koli had filed his mercy petition before the Governor on May 07, 2011, which was rejected only on April 02, 2013, and forwarded to the Union Home Ministry on July 19, 2013, after the elapse of nearly three months.

The court also turned down the argument of Advocate General Vijay Bahadur Singh that in view of the gravity of the offence committed, the court should not review the execution of the death sentence.

The court also took a critical view of the three death warrants issued by the trial court on May 3, 2011; September 2, 2014 and September 3, 2014, saying in none of these the exact date for hanging was mentioned which went "against the principles of natural justice and violated Koli's fundamental rights".

Public outcry over shoddy investigation by police led to the matter being referred to the CBI.

Both Koli and Pandher were named as accused in the serial killings and awarded death sentence in the Rimpa Haldar case.

However, on September 11, 2009 the Allahabad High Court acquitted Pandher and upheld the conviction of Koli while making it clear that the judgement shall have no bearing on trial in other related cases.

Koli moved the Supreme Court but his appeal against the trial court order was rejected following which he filed his mercy petition.

After the rejection of mercy petition, Koli had filed a recall application before the Supreme Court but it was also turned down.

On October 31, three days after the recall application was turned down by the apex court and decks appeared to have been cleared for Koli's hanging, the PUDR approached the high court with the PIL.

A preliminary objection was raised by the Union government on the ground that the petitioner had not himself moved the court and the PUDR had no locus standi.

Nevertheless, the court admitted the PIL observing "a convict who has suffered a long period of incarceration may not necessarily be in a position to move the court by seeking access to justice at the earliest possible opportunity".

Both Koli and Pandher have been convicted in a number of other cases related to the Nithari killings while trial in some others are on. Pandher is currently out on bail.
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