The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice to the Union Home Ministry on a public interest litigation petition seeking a direction to expeditiously decide pending mercy petitions within a time frame.

A Bench of Justices B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar was acting on the petition filed by the NGO, Justice on Trial, highlighting the delay of several years in deciding the mercy petitions of convicts after the Supreme Court had pronounced the verdict.

The petitioner said executive clemency, though a matter of discretion, was subject to certain standards. “The power is not merely a privilege but a matter of performance of official duty. The power has to be exercised not only for the benefit of the convict but also for the welfare of the people who may insist on the performance of the duty and, therefore, the discretion has to be exercised on public considerations alone.”

The Ministry not deciding on the petitions for years was anathema to the basic canons of rule of law, the petition said. A pernicious impression “seems to be growing in the minds of the public that whatever the courts may decide one can always turn to the executive for defeating the verdict by resorting to delaying tactics as delay defeats justice.”

The petitioner said several petitions preferred to the President seeking commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment were pending consideration by the Ministry. As there was a huge backlog of cases, there was enormous delay in taking a decision.

The petition said that according to Home Minister P. Chidambaram's statement, 28 mercy petitions, including that of Afzal Guru (convicted in the Parliament attack case) were pending and one of them was pending for 11 years. It sought a direction to the Ministry to furnish a list of persons whose petitions were pending.

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