The Supreme Court has taken note of a woman’s plea that her husband, an Army man, has been languishing in jail for 27 years without a final decision on the death penalty awarded by a Court Martial for killing two of his colleagues. A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A M Khanwilkar took note of the plea of Mithilesh Rai, wife of the jailed Army man Lance Naik Devendra Nath Rai and issued notice to the Ministry of Defence, the Chief of Army Staff and others and asked them to respond within four weeks. Rai, 60, whose mental health suffered due to the long incarceration, was awarded the death penatly by the General Court Martial (GCM) in 1991. The Centre confirmed the noose.
The Army man appealed in the Allahabad High Court which, in 2000, upheld the conviction, but set aside the death penalty saying no special reason was accorded by the GCM which also did not do balancing of mitigating and aggravating circumstances. The Central government challenged the verdict in the apex court which, on January 10, 2006 remanded the case back to the High Court and asked it to decide it afresh.
The high court dismissed the plea of Rai on May 8, 2007 due to non-prosecution as the lawyer could not appear. The plea for restoration was filed compounding the woes of Rai and his wife as the case files remained untraceable in the High Court Registry from 2007 and 2013 and finally, the case got revived.
However, the high court, despite the specific order of the top court, transferred the case to the Armed Force Tribunal (AFT) to decide the case of Rai by scrutinising the 1991 findings arrived at by the General Court Martial (GCM), the plea said.
The AFT, which adjourned hearing on four occasions, dismissed the plea of Rai for non-prosecution in 2015. Ultimately, the wife of the jailed Army man moved the top court through senior lawyer Shekhar Naphade and advocate Amartya Kanjilal seeking enforcement of the fundamental right to life.
The top court has issued notice to the Centre and others recently. The Lance Naik was allegedly involved in the murder of two Army personnel on June 15, 1991 and was immediately taken into custody. His wife alleged that during last 27 years of incarceration, Rai has not been released even once either on bail, parole or furlough. The plea has sought quashing of the order of the sentence passed by the General Court Martial way back in 1991. Alternatively, the plea has sought Rai’s release after awarding the jail term already undergone by him.