President Pranab Mukherjee, on January 1, commuted the death sentences of four convicts to life imprisonment, accepting their mercy petitions. They are Krishna Mochi, Nanhe Lal Mochi, Bir Kuer Paswan and Dharmendra Singh and Dharu Singh.
The Supreme Court had confirmed their death sentences on April 15, 2002.
Setting aside the advice of the Home Ministry to reject the mercy petitions of the four convicts in the Bara caste massacre case, President Pranab Mukherjee has commuted their death sentences to life imprisonment.
Twenty five years ago, in 1992, 34 upper-caste Bhumihars were killed in Bara village near Gaya, Bihar, allegedly by members of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC, now CPI-Maoist) – one of several caste killings in the area in the 1990s.
Three of the four convicts in the Bara case are Dalits.
Earlier this month, the President set aside the advice of the ministry as there were concerns about the decision unleashing a fresh round of caste skirmishes in Bihar and also because of the ‘inordinate delay’ by the state Governor in deciding on the mercy petitions.
The Home Ministry’s recommendation for a rejection of the mercy petitions came in August 2016, after Bihar Governor Ramnath Kovind, acting on the advice of the state government, rejected the mercy pleas in February 2016.
On June 8, 2001, the Sessions Judge-cum-designated TADA court sentenced Nanhelal Mochi, Krishna Mochi, Bir Kuer Paswan and Dharmendra Singh to death, a verdict upheld by the Supreme Court in April 2002.
In 2009, the court also sentenced Vyas Kahar, Naresh Paswan and Bugal Mochi to death in the same case. Later, Naresh was acquitted on grounds of lack of evidence and shoddy investigation, while the sentences of Vyas and Bugal were commuted to life.
The 1992 Bara massacre followed a string of massacres in 1990-91, in which 59 Scheduled Caste men were killed. In 1997, the upper caste militia, Ranvir Sena, allegedly carried out a ‘revenge attack’ for Bara, leaving 58 Dalits dead in Laxmanpur Bathe.
In 2013, the Bihar High Court acquitted all 26 people accused of the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre, sparking off an outcry from the civil society. Other caste massacres around the same time in the state included those in Bathani Tola, Haibasppur, Shankar Bigha and Lakhisarai.
The Supreme Court in the case of Shatrughan Chauhan and Anr Vs Union of India & Others had said in 2014: “It is vehemently asserted that the execution of death penalty in the face of such an inordinate delay would infringe fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution, which would invite the exercise of the jurisdiction by this Court.” In that case the death sentence was commuted on the ground of “unreasonable, unexplained and exorbitant” delay in disposal of the mercy petition.
Long delay has in the past too been a ground for commutation of death penalty as the President did when he commuted the death sentence of Jitu Nain Singh Gehlot in September 2016. The delay in disposing the mercy petition in that case was of more than 14 years.