On July 7, Ankush Maruti Shinde was saved from being erroneously executed. The Nasik Sessions Court declared him to be a juvenile after he had spent more than nine years in prison, six of which were spent in a solitary cell as a death-row inmate. The Governor had rejected his mercy petition, and the courts too had failed to investigate the matter.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly directed trial courts to investigate the age of the accused as a preliminary issue, but cases like that of Ankush come up time and again. Ankushs appearance should have prompted the Magistrate and the Sessions Court to inquire into his age. Instead, he was sentenced to death by the trial court, the High Court and the Supreme Court without any attempt being made to ascertain his age on the date of offence even though unimpeachable documentary proof was available showing him to be a juvenile.
Ankushs school leaving certificate clearly showed that he was a juvenile on the date of offence. The process to prove his juvenility after the death sentence had been confirmed by the Supreme Court was protracted and tedious. The Nasik Sessions Court now had to tread very carefully. It took months for the application to be registered and numbered, as the court, quite without precedent, asked for certified copies of even the reported judgments in Ankushs case.
One of the witnesses during the inquiry was Ankushs mother. She came to the court with the wife of Raju Mhasu Shinde, who is Ankushs cousin, co-accused, and fellow death-row inmate. She saw her son, who was in Nagpur Central Prison, on the videoconferencing screen. At the end of the day, she only wanted to know whether Ankush would be saved from the gallows. She expressed her fear that she might lose Ankush very soon and did not mind if he continued to remain in jail for the rest of his life.
Given the circumstances, the courts order declaring Ankush to be a juvenile in conflict with law is commendable and brave. It could have easily wilted under the pressure of the Supreme Courts death sentence, the prosecutions emotional arguments, or by the nature of the crime. There are many more death-row prisoners like Ankush who are juveniles under law and entitled to its protection, but their cases have not been investigated.Vijay Hiremath
Vijay Hiremath is an Advocate of the Bombay High Court.