The Supreme Court has said that the government has a duty to decide on mercy petitions of those sentenced to death without much delay.
The government’s failure to act on mercy petitions would amount to doing injustice to convicts whose sentence may be converted to life imprisonment, the apex court said, while upholding the death sentence on Jagdish who murdered his wife and five children in Manasa district of Madhya Pradesh.
Citing a number of its earlier observations, the apex court said that if there was excessive delay in executing the death sentence or disposing of the mercy petitions by the government, then the prisoner was entitled to his sentence of death commuted to life imprisonment, as otherwise it would be violative of Article 21 (right to liberty).
“It seems to us that the extremely excessive delay in the disposal of the case of the appellant would, by itself, be sufficient for imposing a lesser sentence of imprisonment for life under Section 302,” the apex court had said in 1971 in the Vivian Rodrick vs West Bengal case. “The observations reproduced above become extremely relevant as of today on account of the pendency of 26 mercy petitions before the President of India, in some cases where the Courts had awarded the death sentences more than a decade ago.
“We too take this opportunity to remind the governments concerned of their obligations under the aforementioned statutory and Constitutional provisions,” a bench of Justices H.S. Bedi and J.M. Panchal observed in the judgement.
Though Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist and Parliament attack convict Mohd. Afzal’s death sentence was confirmed by the apex court in August 2005, the government is yet to execute the sentence citing the pendency of his mercy petition.
“In addition to the solitary confinement and lack of privacy with respect to even daily ablutions, the rattle on the cell door heralding the arrival of the Jailor with the prospect [of his being] the harbinger of bad news, a condemned prisoner lives a life of uncertainty and defeat,” the court observed.
In the present case, Jagadish was convicted under Section 302 of IPC of murdering his wife and five children (four daughters and a son, all aged between one and 16 years) and was sentenced to death by Additional Sessions Judge, Manasa on April 24, 2006.
The sentence was confirmed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, following which he appealed in the apex court.
Jagdish, besides pleading that he was in an unsound state of mind, said his death sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment as it had not been executed for over three years.
However, the apex court said that in Jagadish’s case there was not much of a delay from the time of his conviction till the dismissal of his appeal on September 18, 2009.