"The last execution in India was carried out in Kolkata jail in August 2004 when Dhananjoy Chatterjee was hanged for raping and killing a schoolgirl."
By Syed Zarir Hussain

Jorhat -, June 2 - Authorities in Assam have launched a countrywide search for a hangman to execute a 49-year-old murder convict, officials said Thursday.

The hunt for an executioner began after President Pratibha Patil May 27 rejected the mercy petition of condemned prisoner Mahendra Nath Das.

'The gallows is in place for the execution but the problem is non-availability of a hangman. We are searching for an executioner from outside Assam,' Brojen Das, jailer of Jorhat prison, told IANS.

Mahendra Nath Das, currently lodged at the central jail in this town, about 300 km east of Assam's main city Guwahati, killed a 68-year-old man, Harakanta Das, on April 24, 1996.

After committing the crime, the killer carried the severed head and the blood-dripping blunt weapon to a police station and surrendered.

He was sentenced him to death by the sessions court in 1997. His appeal in higher courts was rejected. Even his final plea for clemency was turned down by the president May 27.

'The appellant amputated the right hand and thereafter severed the head of Hara Kanta Das. With the head of the deceased in one hand and the blood dripping weapon in the other hand, he moved majestically towards Fancy Bazar police outpost,' the court ruling in 1997 read.

Thereafter, a long drawn legal battle pursued with the now 74-year-old mother of Mahendra Nath Das appealing for mercy.

'I am still hopeful and pray my son's death sentence is reversed and made into life imprisonment,' said Kusumbala Das, currently bedridden with old age ailments at her village home in Bohori in Barpeta district.

But the condemned prisoner in December said while being brought for health checkup at the Gauhati Medical College that he was not given a fair trial.

'I have no regrets for killing him as he - attempted to take my life. I already completed 14 years in prison. Why should there be double punishment for me now. I was not given a fair trial,' Mahendra Nath Das told journalists in December.

'I should not be hanged as I already completed 15 years in jail.'

The Jorhat central jail is the only prison in Assam with facilities for execution - at least five people were hanged at the jail since India's independence in 1947.

The last execution at the jail took place in 1990.

'Two men were hanged to death during my tenure. On both occasions we had to hire executioners from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh,' former jailer Banikanta Baruah told IANS.

'But the problem now is that people don't volunteer to act as a hangman. It is surely a tough job to search for a hangman now.'

Meanwhile, rights groups have questioned the capital punishment.

Said Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director Sam Zarifi said: 'For India to revive capital punishment would also be bucking the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty.'

Although India voted against the resolution for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, adopted by the UN General Assembly thrice, President Patil commuted the death sentences of 20 prisoners since November 2009, an Amnesty report said.

The last execution in India was carried out in Kolkata jail in August 2004 when Dhananjoy Chatterjee was hanged for raping and killing a schoolgirl.

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