“5-judge Constitution Bench alone must award death penalty”

The Supreme Court has permitted death row convict Devender Pal Singh Bhullar, who is seeking commutation, to amend his petition to incorporate a plea that only a five-judge Constitution Bench must award the death penalty.

A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and H.L. Dattu earlier issued notice to the Centre and the Delhi government on Bhullar's petition for reducing his sentence to life imprisonment. Soon after the court issued notice on the petition, the President rejected his mercy plea and thereafter his wife, Navneeth Kaur, filed another writ petition. Both petitions were being heard together. During the hearing on Monday, senior counsel K.T.S. Tulsi said Bhullar should be allowed to plead that the death sentence be handed only by a Constitution Bench and there should be no death penalty if there was a split verdict as had happened in his case.

The Bench permitted counsel to amend the petition accordingly and adjourned the proceedings.

‘Dehumanising act'

Bhullar was sentenced to death by a designated TADA court on August 25, 2001 for his role in the September 10, 1993, bomb blast in Delhi targeting a cavalcade of the then All-India Youth Congress president Maninderjit Singh Bitta, who escaped with serious injuries, though nine security personnel were killed.

Ms. Kaur said the prolonged delay in the disposal of her husband's mercy petition was a dehumanising act and had the constitutional implication of depriving a person of his life, thus violating Article 21. Her husband had become mentally retarded on account of more than 5,700 days of delay. His condition had continued to deteriorate in the post-conviction period since 2003.

“Surprisingly, the case of my husband, which is shown to have been submitted to the President, was suddenly taken up within two days of the Supreme Court issuing notice on May 23 on the writ petition questioning the inordinate delay in disposal of the mercy petition. It is clear that this case has been taken out of turn and chosen on an arbitrary basis and perhaps as a measure of punishment for approaching the Supreme Court.”

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