MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court today gave the Union government time till April 24 to file a reply on petitions filed by three convicts in the Shakti Mills gang-rape case challenging the constitutional validity of the law under which they were sentenced to death for a repeat offence.
A bench of Justices R M Savant and Sarang Kotwal directed the Centre to file affidavits, explaining the amended provision of the Indian Penal Code which prescribes life sentence or the capital punishment for repeat offenders in rape cases.
Three of the five persons who were convicted by the sessions court here in 2014 -- Vijay Jadhav, Kasim Bengali and Salim Ansari -- have moved the high court.
Bengali and Ansari challenged the sessions court order allowing the prosecution to invoke Section 376 (E) of the IPC when the trial was underway.
They also challenged the constitutional validity of this section, brought in by the Union government after the infamous 2012 Delhi gang-rape case.
Jadhav filed a petition this year through senior advocate Yug Chowdhary on similar grounds.
The Union government's lawyer, advocate Sandesh Patil, told the court today that draft affidavits-in-reply on petitions of Bengali and Ansari were ready but awaiting nod of the law ministry.
As to Jadhav, advocate Patil sought more time, saying the convict had not served him a copy of the petition.
The court then gave the government time till April 24.
On April 5, 2014, the three petitioners were convicted under the Section 376 (E) and sentenced to death for raping a city-based photo-journalist, as they were found to have raped another woman earlier.
Siraj Khan, another convict, was sentenced to life imprisonment as he wasn't involved in the earlier rape, while a fifth accused, a minor, was sent to a correctional facility.
The petitioners contended that the sessions court acted beyond its power in awarding them the death sentence. They also challenged IPC Section 376 (E).
While death punishment is given only in "rarest of rare" cases, the constitutional validity of the criminal law amendment which effectively treats more than one offence of rape as "rarest of rare" should be examined, they said.
The photo-journalist, who had gone to the defunct Shakti Mills on an assignment with a male colleague, was gang-raped by the accused on August 22, 2013, sending shock waves through the city.
The prosecution invoked Section 376 (E) when it was found that four of them had raped an 18-year-old telephone operator in the same place some months earlier.