NEW DELHI: Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh lost their final legal battle on Wednesday when the Supreme Court declined to review its judgment confirming the death sentences awarded to them in the Indira Gandhi assassination case.

The only course now open to the two to escape the gallows is a mercy petition to the President.

The review petitions of the two were dismissed in chamber by the same division bench, comprising Justice G.L. Oza Justice B.C. Ray and Justice K.J. Shetty, which on August 3 had dismissed their appeals against the Delhi High Court judgment confirming the death sentence.

The court had, however, acquitted the third accused, Balbir Singh.

The judges said they had examined and reexamined all the relevant points, before giving the judgment and therefore, saw no reason to entertain the review petitions.

Satwant Singh, a constable and Kehar Singh, a sub inspector in the Prime Minister’s security force, had been convicted and sentenced to death along with Balbir Singh an assistant in the directorate general of supplies and disposal for the murder of the former Prime Minister on October 31, 1984. While Satwant Singh was convict and sentenced on the charge of murder under Section 302 read with Section 120 B of the Indian Penal code, the remaining two were charged with conspiracy to murder Mrs. Gandhi.

When challenged the trial court judgment dated January 22, 1986, was confirmed by the high court on December 3, 1986. The Supreme Court however allowed the appeal filed by Balbir Singh and acquitted him.

Satwant Singh and Kehar singh had filed their review petitions alleging contradictions in the separate but concurring judgments pronounced by the three judges on whether the trial was vitiated as it was held in Tihar Central Jail.

In his 46 page review petition, Kehar Singh had submitted that his was a case of “no evidence” and that his case be set down for hearing in an open court and that the counsel be allowed to address the judges,

Satwant Singh’s 98 page petition said Justice Oza had described the case as one relating to a very unfortunate incident in which the Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Such an approach appeared to be predetermining the case without adverting to the law the petition submitted.

The prosecution in presenting concluding arguments before the Supreme Court urged death penalty for what it described as “rarest of rare” cases where the country’s Prime Minister had been gunned down by her own security guards “betraying the trust reposed in them.”

Referring to Kehar Singh the additional solicitor general Mr. G Ramaswamy had said religious events like “Amrit Chakna” though by themselves innocuous were of great significance when seen in the light of the assassination and the conspiracy behind it.

In his defence of Satwant Singh, Council R.S. Sodhi had submitted that important witnesses, who had testified before the Thakar Commission had been prevented from deposing before the trial court by the prosecution. He had contended that Satwant was shot at before Mrs. Gandhi was gunned down.

Mr, Ram Jethmalani, counsel for Kehar Singh, had told the court that there was no substantial evidence on record to show that his client was involved in the conspiracy to kill Mrs. Gandhi.

Article extracted from this publication >> September 16, 1988