The Supreme Court Friday dismissed a plea by 1993 Delhi bomb blast convict Devender Pal Singh Bhullar challenging the rejection of his mercy plea by the president, while noting that the home ministry had failed to alert the president's secretariat of the "dire necessity of deciding the pending mercy petitions".
Rejecting the plea by Bhullar, his wife and NGO Justice on Trial Trust, an apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice S.J. Mukhopadyay said: "We hold that the petitioners have failed to make out a case for invalidation of the exercise of power by the president under Article 72 of the constitution not to accept the prayer for commutation of the sentence of death into life imprisonment. The writ petitions are accordingly dismissed."
Bhullar was given capital punishment for the September 10, 1993 blast at the Youth Congress office in Delhi that left nine dead 17 injured. The attack was targeted against then Youth Congress chief M.S. Bitta.
In an apparent censure of the home ministry, the court said: "What was done in April and May, 2011 (rejecting mercy petition) could have been done in 2005 itself and that would have avoided unnecessary controversy."
Refusing to commute the Bhullar's death sentence into life imprisonment on medical grounds, the judgment said that the documents placed before it "do give an indication that on account of prolonged detention in jail after his conviction and sentence to death, the petitioner has suffered physically and mentally, the same cannot be relied upon for recording a finding that the petitioner's mental health has deteriorated to such an extent that the sentence awarded to him cannot be executed."
However, there is uncertainty over when Bhullar would be hanged.
Doctors and jail officials said that Bhullar needed more mental health treatment and cannot be hanged till declared fit.
"Bhullar is undergoing treatment at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS) in Dilshad Garden," the office of his lawyer K.T.S. Tulsi told IANS.
"Bhullar is undergoing treatment by a panel of five to six doctors. It is not easy to say how much time is required for him to be mentally fit," Rajesh Kumar, one of the doctors treating Bhullar at the IHBAS, said.
Tihar Central Jail spokesman Sunil Gupta told IANS: "As per Indian law, a convict cannot be hanged till he is declared mentally and physically fit."
"When we get Bhullar's fitness certificate from the asylum, he will be lodged back in Tihar Jail and hanged as per procedure," he said.
The court noted that 18 mercy petitions filed between 1999 and 2011 remained pending for one year to 13 years. "It gives an impression that the government and the president's secretariat have not dealt with these petitions with requisite seriousness. We hope and trust that in future such petitions will be disposed of without unreasonable delay," the court observed.
It pointed out that because of the delay in deciding Bhullar's clemency plea, "immense pressure was brought upon the government in the form of representations made by various political and non-political functionaries, organizations and several individuals from other countries."
Bhullar's appeal challenging his conviction by the trial court was rejected by the apex court in 2002 and the review petition too was rejected Dec 17, 2002.
Bhullar filed a mercy petition Jan 14, 2003, which was rejected by the president May 25, 2011.
The target of the attack - M.S. Bitta - welcomed the ruling.
"Bhullar's file kept moving inside the home ministry, law ministry and the Delhi government for 15 years I didn't expect Bhullar will get the death sentence," Bitta said .
While the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) welcomed the Supreme Court ruling, in Punjab the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) termed it "unfortunate".
"We respect the Supreme Court judgment. We respect any judgement of any court. We never intervene in any legal system," Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi told IANS.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Balbir Punj said: "Whatsoever punishment awarded by the apex court should be implemented. There cannot be any exceptions. And those who dared to challenge the authority of the state and those who wage war against the state and conspire to destabilise the country should be ready to face consequences."
Senior Akali Dal leader Prem Singh Chandumajra said in Chandigarh: "It is an unfortunate judgment. We were hoping that the court would keep in mind the situation in Punjab at that time. We will appeal to the president to review the decision. We will also appeal to the prime minister to intervene."
The SGPC, the mini-parliament of the Sikhs, said it was "disappointed" by the apex court ruling.
SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar said: "This is an unfortunate thing for the Sikh community."