Thanks to the indifferent attitude of the Central Government of India, petition for commutation of death penalty awarded to Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana for assassinating the controversial Punjab Chief Minister Beant ‘Singh’ has been hanging fire for around nine years, despite scores of the appeals that have been made by the Sikh organizations to the government repeatedly so far.
Of late, the Supreme Court of India (SCI) asked the government to take the decision before January 26 on the plea lodged by Bhai Rajoana to seek to expedite the decision on the mercy petition filed by the SGPC before the President of India in 2012. Once again, the government did not take any decision and urged the SCI to take more time for the same. Showing leniency towards the government, the court on Friday (February 12) gave it six more weeks to take the decision.
Beant under whose supervision, thousands of Sikh youths and their kin were brutally killed extra-judicially by the Punjab Police on the pretext of eliminating militancy, were killed in an explosion outside the Civil Secretariat, Chandigarh, in 1995. Bhai Rajoana openly declared that he assassinated him for his sins. He was sentenced to death in 2007 by a special court. He is in Patiala Jail currently.
However, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde had on January 25 given the Center’s last chance to take a call on his plea seeking commutation. On Friday, it granted additional time after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the President was seized of the matter, as per media reports.
“The process has started, and the President will make a decision. This is a case where the convict is accused of assassinating a former CM on the issue of ‘Khalistan’,” Mehta told the Bench, requesting it to wait for the President’s decision, reported English Daily The Tribune.
As the Bench asked if he could give a time-frame for the decision, Mehta said he could only speak for the government and not the President.
Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi speaking on behalf of the petitioner, said as the convict’s plea had been pending for a long time, the case shouldn’t be adjourned for more than two weeks.
He also cited another Sikh political prisoner, Prof. Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar case to support his argument. He said the “delay caused by circumstances beyond the prisoner’s control mandates commutation of a death sentence.” The inordinate delay had caused agony and adversely affected his physical and mental health, Rajoana contended through his counsel.
Notably, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) is paying fees for the lawyer of Bhai Rajoana. The lawyer charges Rs. 11 lakh for each of the appearances in the apex court of India. So far, the SGPC has paid Rs. 58 lakh to the lawyer.
Bhai Rajoana, who stated that he had no regret on the then CM’s assassination, held guilty of the massacre of the Sikhs in Punjab, had been scheduled to be hanged on March 31 in 2012. This schedule created deep unrest in Punjab, and the people took on roads to oppose the execution. On 28 March 2012, India’s Home Ministry of India stayed the execution following clemency appeals filed by the SGPC. The highest Sikh Temporal seat Akal Takht Sahib awarded him the title of ‘zinda shaheed’ (living martyr).
In September 2019, Home Ministry officials said the government had decided to commute the death sentence of Rajoana to life imprisonment as a “humanitarian gesture” on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. However, taking a U-turn, the home minister Amit Shah said, “Please don’t go by media reports. No pardon has been given”. This gesture of Shah invited criticism across the world.