Mercy petition turned down by President after a delay of 12 years

The Supreme Court on Tuesday posted for final hearing on Thursday a Special Leave Petition filed by death-row convict Mahendra Nath Das, whose mercy petition was rejected by the President after an inordinate delay of 12 years and plea for commutation to life imprisonment on this ground was dismissed by the Gauhati High Court.

A Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and Justice Swatanter Kumar, without passing any order on his petition seeking stay on execution of death sentence, posted the main SLP, against the High Court order dated January 30, for final hearing on February 9.

Das, in his writ petition, had contended that the delay in deciding his mercy petition by the President and finally giving the assent for the death sentence had resulted in excruciating agony and trauma for almost 12 years for no explainable reasons and this was a valid ground for awarding life sentence.

On Tuesday, it was submitted by senior counsel Shyam Divan, along with counsel Vrinda Grover, that a Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhaya had already listed for final hearing on February 22 the appeals filed by Devendar Pal Singh Bhullar and other connected matters relating to delay in deciding clemency petitions and that the appeal filed by Das be also listed before the same Bench.

However, the Bench said it would hear the matter and issued notice to Solicitor-General Rohinton Nariman and the State of Assam and posted it for final hearing on February 9, when it is expected to take a decision to stay his execution or not.

The last execution the country witnessed was that of Dhananjay Chatterjee in 2004.

In December last, a Bench headed by Justice Singhvi in its order had said: “A perusal of the list enclosed with the information made available by the President's Secretariat on June 2, 2011 shows that as many as 17 mercy petitions were processed. Keeping in view the importance of the issue arising in the writ petition and the fact that a large number of other persons may not be, due to sheer ignorance, able to file petition under Articles 72 or 161 of the Constitution or move the Court as has been done by the petitioner in this case, we request senior counsels Ram Jethmalani and T.R. Andhyarujina of this Court to assist us as amicus curiae.”

The Bench asked the Additional Solicitor-General to place before the Court a compilation containing details of mercy petitions received by the Government of India and the governments of different States and their status as on the date of preparation of the compilation.

The Bench said that the copies of the compilation should be made available to counsel assisting Mr. Jethmalani and Mr. Andhyarujina.

The case of the prosecution was that on April 24, 1996, Mahendra Das beheaded Harakanta Das at Fancy Bazaar and surrendered with the victim's head. He was arrested and put in jail in 1997 after the sessions court ordered his execution.

The Gauhati High Court and Supreme Court upheld capital punishment in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Subsequently, Mahendra Das' family moved a mercy petition to the then President K. R Narayanan in 1999. The plea was finally turned down in May 2011 by President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, setting the stage for his hanging. The High Court, on September 8, 2011, dismissed a writ petition filed by the convict's mother, Kusumbala Das, for commuting her son's death sentence to life imprisonment, holding that she had no locus standi to file it on behalf of her son. Then, Mahendra Das filed a writ petition pleading for commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment since he had already spent about 14 years in jail during the disposal of his petition seeking presidential clemency.

There had been protests against the death sentence of Mahendra Das. Even Amnesty International expressed concern over his imminent execution.

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