Human rights organisations have welcomed Tuesday’s ruling of the Supreme Court that the death sentence can be commuted to life imprisonment because of delay on the government’s part in deciding the mercy petition of a death-row prisoner.

In a statement, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) welcomed the court’s observation that inordinate delay in considering mercy or commutation petitions by the President or the Governors would form a legal ground for commutation of the death sentence. The judgment was historic for two other reasons: “The Supreme Court has held that apart from delay, the mental health of the convict — including schizophrenia and mental illness — and solitary confinement are grounds for commutation.”

“We hope this will mark a significant step towards abolishing the death penalty,” the PUCL said.

Human Rights Watch said the court had taken a humane view. The government should declare a moratorium on death sentence, commute all death sentences to life in prison and then work towards abolishing the penalty.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights said the verdict pushed India towards being an abolitionist state.

More In: National | News | Tamil Nadu