NEW DELHI—Delivering its judgment on a batch of 13 Public Interest Litigation and writ petitions, the Indian Supreme Court provided relief on Tuesday to prisoners who are facing death row and civil rights organisations seeking commutation of the extreme penalty to life sentences in cases involving inordinate delays in the disposal of mercy petitions by the President.
In its judgement, the court commuted the death sentence of 15 convicts to life, saying that the rejection of their mercy petitions by the President was flawed. The death penalty of 13 prisoners has been commuted to life on the grounds of inordinate delay on the part of the President to decide their mercy pleas. The other two were given life sentences on finding that long years in death row had turned them mentally ill.
Especially, Sikh political prisoner Professor Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar would benefit from the judgement as the Supreme Court said that the death sentence of a prisoner cannot be executed if he is suffering from mental illness and schizophrenia and must be commuted to life imprisonment.
Secondly, the court disagreed with a lower court judgment which had said inordinate delay would not be applicable to terrorism cases. In this regard, the court said every person on death row, whether convicted for multiple murder or terrorism cases, will have a right to approach the Supreme Court to challenge the rejection of their mercy petitions on grounds of inordinate delay in deciding their mercy pleas.
Today’s verdict was based on an appeal by four members of the gang led by alleged sandalwood smuggler Veerappan. They filed their mercy petition in 2004 and nine years later, their appeal was rejected.
The top court held that delay in deciding mercy pleas is a relevant ground for commuting death sentences to life imprisonment.
The petitioners had challenged the execution move citing delay in rejection of their mercy pleas. The petitions were filed in the wake of the sudden and secret hanging of Afzal Guru, allegedly convicted in the Parliament attack case.