NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday said it will hear on February 11 the Centre's plea challenging the Delhi High Court's verdict that had dismissed its petition against the stay on the execution of the four Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case convicts.
A bench headed by Justice R Bhanumathi did not heed to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta's request to issue notices to the convicts on the Centre's plea and said it would further delay the matter.
The bench, also comprising justices Ashok Bhushan and A S Bopanna, told Mehta that it would hear him on February 11 and it may consider whether notice was required to be issued to the convicts.
At the outset, Mehta told the court that the "nation's patience is being tested" in the matter and the bench will have to lay down a law on the issue.
Mehta told the bench that one of the convicts Mukesh Kumar Singh has exhausted all his remedies, including mercy plea and the challenge to its rejection in the apex court.
The mercy pleas of Akshay Kumar and Vinay Kumar Sharma have already been dismissed, he said, adding that the fourth convict Pawan Gupta has neither filed a curative petition nor a mercy plea.
"Pawan has chosen not to file a curative or a mercy petition. The question is, is the authority required to wait endlessly," Mehta told the bench.
To this, the bench said, "No one can be compelled to take remedies."
Mehta said in this case there may be a situation where one convict "sits tight for five years" and the others then approach the apex court seeking commutation of death penalty on the ground of delay in execution.
"The high court has granted them (convicts) one week time to avail all their remedies. This amply protects you," the bench said.
Mehta said the bench will have to lay down the law on whether the convicts in a same case can be hanged separately or not.
When the bench said it would hear the matter on February 11, he requested the court to issue a notice to the four death row convicts.
"Let them come to this court on Monday and say what they intend to do," Mehta said.
"Issuance of notice will not harm them. The high court had also issued notices to them. The court can have the benefit of their assistance on the issue. As an institution we are answerable to the society," he said.
To this, the bench said issuing notices to the convicts at this stage will further delay the matter.
"We want to hear you on merits," the bench told Mehta and said it may consider this aspect on the next date of hearing.
The Centre, through its Additional Solicitor General KM Natraj, had moved the top court seeking an urgent hearing on its appeal assailing the verdict which held on Wednesday that the death row convicts have to be executed together and not separately.
Natraj had told the court that jail authorities are unable to execute the convicts in the case despite the fact that their review petitions have been dismissed and curative petitions and mercy pleas of three of them have been rejected.
The high court set a week's deadline for them to avail the remaining remedies.
If the convicts choose not to make any type of petition in seven days from now, the institutions and authorities concerned will deal with the matter, as per the law, without further delay, it had said.
Meanwhile, the trial court will hear on Friday a plea of Tihar jail authorities seeking issuance of fresh death warrants against the convicts.
The trial court had on January 31 stayed "till further orders" execution of the four convicts in the case -- Mukesh (32), Pawan (25), Vinay (26) and Akshay (31), who are lodged in Tihar Jail.
Later, the Centre moved the high court against the stay on the execution of the convicts.
Hours after the high court's verdict, the Centre filed an appeal against it in the apex court.
The high court faulted the authorities concerned for not taking steps for issuance of death warrants after the rejection of appeals of the convicts by the Supreme Court in 2017.
A lawyer associated with the matter had said the grounds taken for a challenge in the top court are almost the same as taken in the high court while filing the appeal against the trial court order.
He had said the Centre has stated in the petition in the apex court that the convicts can be hanged separately as Mukesh has exhausted all his remedies, including the mercy plea.