Was Pandher’s sentence the rarest of rare? (Lead)

February 13th, 2009 - 7:53 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 13 (IANS) The death sentence to Moninder Singh Pandher and his domestic help Surendra Koli has led to a legal debate with some saying they were opposed to capital punishment on principle while others said this was the copybook “rarest of rare” case warranting the gallows.
As news came in of a Ghaziabad court giving capital punishment to the two for the rape, murder and cannibalisation of 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar, lawyers debated the issue. It is the first verdict in the Nithari killings, in which the body parts of 19 children and young women were found behind Pandher’s bungalow in suburban Noida in December 2006.

“I am in principle against death sentences. Here, if it is in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) - then the two must deserve it. At least Koli certainly deserved it, regarding Pandher, I am doubtful,” Soli J. Sorabjee, former solicitor general of India, told IANS.

The CBI in its chargesheet in the gruesome murder of Haldar in May 2007 had exonerated 55-year-old Pandher of abduction, rape and murder saying he was not in the country at the time. Two months later, however, the court reprimanded the investigating agency and Pandher was made co-accused with Koli, 38.

Leading lawyer R.K. Naseem maintained that capital punishment was for the rarest of cases - and the Nithari killings did not qualify yet.

“Death sentence should be kept for the rarest of the rare cases and both the Nithari accused are not in that category. Not yet anyway… let them be convicted in the remaining cases,” Naseeem said.

Leading Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, a leading Supreme Court lawyer, was of the view that the sentence might be justified in such an extreme case.

“I am opposed to such death sentences - but this was a different case. It was such a heinous crime - perhaps they deserved it then,” Bhushan said.

Criminal lawyer Rebecca Mammen said it would be wrong to rule out a different outcome from an appeal in a higher court.

“Given the fact that there is variance in the CBI chargesheet and the judge’s decision, an appeal is likely to follow in Pandher’s case,” she said.

“Personally speaking, I am opposed to capital punishment. In this case, civil society should not intervene and hound for blood.”

Sandhya Bajaj, member of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), said this sentence would serve as a warning to child traffickers.

“This is definitely the rarest case worth of capital punishment because the child was raped and brutally murdered. This will set an example for all cases of crime against children. Such crimes will no longer be tolerated in the society,” she said.

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