NEW DELHI: The Central Government on Friday told the Supreme Court that the process of examining mercy pleas filed on behalf of Balwant Singh Rajoana, awarded a death sentence for the assassination of the then Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995, has been started and the President of India will take the decision.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde granted six weeks to the Centre after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the government, told the Bench that process has started and the President will take a decision.
"The process has started. The President of India will take the decision. Balwant Singh Rajaona is accused of assassinating the former Chief Minister of Punjab over the Khalistan issue," Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Bench.
The Bench then adjourned the plea for commutation of death penalty of Rajaona for six weeks after the Solicitor General's request to await the President's decision on mercy plea 'under the present circumstances'.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Rajoana, said that his client has been in jail for 26 years.
Earlier, the top court asked the Central government to take a decision on mercy pleas filed on behalf of Balwant Singh Rajoana before January 26.
The top court was hearing a plea of Rajoana seeking direction for expeditious disposal of MHA's proposal to commute his death sentence.
The Bench had also asked Centre when it would send a proposal to the President for the commutation of Rajoana's death sentence for killing then Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh.
The top court in December had said that it is untenable on part of Centre to take a stand that proposal for commutation of death sentence of Rajoana, a former Punjab Police constable, was not processed because of pendency of appeals of co-accused in Beant Singh killing case.
The bench had said once the government has decided to recommend a Presidential pardon for a condemned man, the pendency of appeals in the Supreme Court of his co-accused cannot delay the process initiated under Article 72.
Rajoana has not appealed against conviction and sentence but other co-accused have filed mercy plea and this can't be a ground to hold recommendation for pardon, the bench had noted.
Centre processed remission in 2019 of Rajoana, who was awarded capital punishment for Singh's killing. He has been in jail for 25 years.
The top court had earlier said that appeal pending by other co-accused has no relevance to the decision by Ministry of Home Affairs to commute the death sentence of some convicts taken to commemorate 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
It had noted that by a letter dated September 2019, the Ministry of Home Affairs had written to Chief Secretary of Punjab government that on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nayak Dev, the release of some prisoners is proposed.
The Centre had sought time to make a statement on the issue of when the proposal will be sent for processing to the President.
The convict, Balwant Singh Rajoana, was sentenced to death for the murder of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, who died in a bomb explosion in Chandigarh on August 31, 1995.
The Centre had decided on September 27, 2019, to commute the death penalty of Rajoana to a life sentence on the special occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev. Almost a year has passed but the decision is yet to be implemented.
Now, he has approached the apex court seeking commutation of sentence to life imprisonment for the failure on part of the Central government to decide on his mercy petition filed eight years ago.
A Chandigarh court had, on July 27, 2007, awarded death sentence to Rajoana which was upheld by the Punjab and Haryana High Court on October 12, 2010. Rajoana has not filed an appeal against the decision and instead filed a mercy petition before the President.