Mercy petitions of six in Karnataka, 4 in U.P., 3 each in T.N. & Haryana, and one each in Assam and Uttarakhand rejected

The Supreme Court’s rejection of Khalistani terrorist Devinderpal Singh Bhullar’s plea for commutation of the death sentence against him might put in a fix the governments of States where at least 18 convicts are lodged in jails and whose mercy petitions have been rejected by the President.

Last week the Supreme Court stayed for four weeks the execution of eight persons, whose pleas were recently rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee. The court order came on a petition filed by the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), which pointed out that there was undue delay in carrying out the death sentence of these convicts.

As per the latest data, there are six death-row convicts in Karnataka, four in Uttar Pradesh, three each in Tamil Nadu and Haryana, and one each in Assam and Uttarakhand whose mercy pleas have been rejected. They include Santhan, Murugan and Arivu (in Tamil Nadu) convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case; and Simon, Gnanaprakash, Madaiah and Bilavendra (from Karnataka), all members of brigand Veerappan’s gang who were sentenced to death for killing 22 police personnel in 1993.

Mr. Mukherjee has also rejected plea of Sonia, daughter of the former Haryana MLA Relu Ram Punia, who along with her husband Sanjeev, was convicted in 2007 of killing eight members of her family, including her father. Similarly, the mercy petition of Dharampal, a rape convict from Haryana, has been rejected.

The four convicts in Uttar Pradesh are Gurmeet Singh (convicted of killing 13 family members in 1986), Jafar Ali (who murdered his wife and five daughters), and Suresh and Ramji (brothers who killed five of their relatives over property dispute). Other convicts on death row are Saibanna from Karnataka and Sunder Singh of Uttarakhand.

Notably, during her tenure, President Pratibha Patil rejected the mercy pleas of Bhullar and Mahendrra Nath Das of Assam (who is still to be hanged), while commuting the death sentences to life imprisonment in 12 cases.

Since his entry into Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mr. Mukherjee has rejected at least 11 mercy petitions, including that of the Mumbai attack case convict Ajmal Kasab and the Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru, who were immediately hanged in secrecy. The President has, however, given relief to Atbir from Delhi, who killed his step-mother and her two children in a property dispute, commuting his death sentence to life imprisonment.

Activists worried

Friday’s Supreme Court’s judgment has left civil rights activists worried as they feel this could lead to a mad rush for executions. Expressing regret over the ruling, the Asian Centre for Human Rights said: “It is an opportunity lost for recognising [the] ‘death row syndrome’ i.e. the traumatic stress imposed on a prisoner by having to wait on prison wings set aside for those sentenced to death…it is violation of human rights.”

In a statement, director Suhas Chakma said: “The decisions of the government of India with respect to mercy pleas have been arbitrary, discriminatory, secretive and based on political considerations. Even though all death-row convicts are equal before the law after their conviction, the government of India has been arbitrarily picking up death-row convicts to secretly hang them.”