Delhi: In a verdict that will have some serious fallout, the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that an inordinate delay in deciding on mercy petitions is valid ground for commuting death sentence to life imprisonment.
The verdict came in a petition moved in the Supreme Court by four associates of the slain forest brigand Veerappan. Their mercy petitions were recently rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee.
The court said that a convict on death row should be hanged within 14 days of his mercy plea being rejected and the government cannot sit over mercy petitions for years without assigning proper reasons.
Today’s verdict would mean that the assassins of Rajiv Gandhi and Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar would have to be commuted to life. Bhullar too had pleaded that he had undergone great agony for 11 years awaiting the President’s decision on his mercy plea.
Professor Bhullar was sentenced to death by a trial court on 25 August 2001 for hatching a plot to kill Punjab Senior Superintendent of Police Sumedh Saini in 1991 and Youth Congress leader M.S Bitta in 1993, in which nine people were killed.
In the Veerappan case, Simon, Gnanaprakash, Madaiah and Bilavendra were convicted of killing 22 persons in landmine blasts in Palar. They are currently lodged in the Hindalga Central Jail in Belgaum since 2004.
It was argued on behalf of the convicts that their death sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment on the ground of an inordinate nine-year delay in disposal of their mercy petitions.
In a precedent, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court had ruled in Triveniben vs. State of Gujarat “undue long delay in the execution of the sentence of death will entitle the condemned prisoner to approach this court under Article 32.”
Using this precedent, the convict petitioners argued that the nine-year delay in the disposal of the mercy petitions gave the petitioners a right to approach the Supreme Court and seek commutation of the death sentence and to challenge the rejection of their mercy petitions.