Take Call on Mercy Petitions Within Reasonable Time, Says SC
A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam on Tuesday rejected the Centre’s submission that there was no unreasonable delay in deciding the mercy plea of Rajiv Gandhi killers Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan and commuted their death sentence to life term.
The court brushed aside the Centre’s argument that the convicts were not suffering while in jail and said, “There is no requirement in Indian law as well as in international judgments for a death-row convict to prove actual harm occasioned by the delay. There is no obligation on the convict to demonstrate specific ill-effects of suffering and agony on his mind and body as a prerequisite for commutation of sentence of death.”
“The clemency procedure under Article 72/161 provides a ray of hope to the condemned prisoners and his family members for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment and, therefore, the executive should step up and exercise its time-honoured tradition of clemency power guaranteed in the Constitution one-way or the other within a reasonable time.”
“The fact that no time limit is prescribed to the President/Governor for disposal of the mercy petition should compel the government to work in a more systematised manner to repose the confidence of the people in the institution of democracy. Besides, it is definitely not a pleasure for this Court to interfere in the constitutional power vested under Article 72/161 of the Constitution and, therefore, we implore upon the government to render its advice to the President within a reasonable time so that the President is in a position to arrive at a decision at the earliest,” the court said.
Rajiv Gandhi was killed in May 1991 in Sriperumbudur. His assassins were convicted by a TADA court in January 1998 and were awarded the death sentence, which was confirmed by the apex court on May 11, 1999.
The bench had reserved its verdict on February 4 on the petition of the three convicts for commutation of their death sentence on ground of delay in deciding their mercy plea. Their plea was strongly opposed by the Centre, which had said it was not a fit case for the apex court to commute the death sentence on the ground of delay in deciding mercy plea.
The apex court had in May 2012 decided to adjudicate the petitions of Rajiv’s killers against their death penalty and had directed that their plea, pending with the Madras High Court, be sent to it. The court had passed the order on a petition by one L K Venkat, seeking transfer of their plea out of Tamil Nadu on the ground that free and fair hearing would not be possible in the State due to the surcharged atmosphere in favour of the convicts.