Raj Bhavan, Rajasthan government pass the buck in Chishty case
More than two months after the Rajasthan government cleared a clemency petition from Khaleel Chishty, the ailing Pakistani doctor who is undergoing life imprisonment in the Ajmer Central Jail, the issue remains unsettled with the quarters concerned passing the buck among one another.
The recent improvements in the India-Pakistan relations, the much hyped visit of Pakistan's Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar and successful Foreign Secretary-level meetings in Islamabad and Delhi in the past two months, seem to have had zero impact on the fortunes of the Ajmer-born virologist. An earlier plea from Dr. Chishty for suspension of the execution of the sentence was rejected by a local court with the argument that he is a Pakistani.
The mercy petition, cleared by the authorities concerned, the Rajasthan Home Ministry and finally Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot in June, first got stuck in the corridors of Raj Bhawan, with Acting Governor Shivraj Patil sending it back to the Home Ministry with a set of queries.
Mr. Patil, who is the Governor of Punjab, has visited the Rajasthan capital at least two times thereafter, but the fate of the file is not yet officially known.
The petition seeks clemency for Dr. Chishty from the Governor under Article 161 of the Constitution.
What makes the delay in grant of clemency surprising is that the mercy petition of Dr. Chishty - whose 19-year-long trial ended on January 31 this year with an Ajmer court convicting him and two others - has been almost universally endorsed. The large number of human rights activists, intellectuals, and members of the Indian judiciary who pleaded with the Prime Minister and Governor Shivraj Patil to free the elderly prisoner included Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju, veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar, and filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt.
There is an urgency in the case since Dr. Chishty - whose age is around 80 years - is presently lodged in the hospital quarters of the Ajmer Central jail and his health is not too good with many complaints, including a bad heart condition, hypertension, and a history of cerebro-vascular accident-stroke, besides a fracture on the left femur. In fact, the plea from the activists of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Rajasthan, who moved the petition on his behalf, was that for the sake of humanity, he should be allowed to go back to Pakistan alive.
Raj Bhawan sources indicated that the queries from Mr. Patil have yet to be replied. But this is denied by the State government. “From [our] side [we] have cleared the mercy petition. Furnishing replies and things like thereafter are minor aspects,” said Rajasthan Chief Secretary S. Ahmed when asked by The Hindu about the government's position.
It is learnt that the queries from Mr. Patil included the legitimacy of Dr. Chishty's claim for pardon, including his innocence and intention of moving such a plea when there was a petition pending in the High Court, besides the seriousness of his condition. Mr. Patil also reportedly sought to know the reason for such a delay in the trial and also how/why the petitioner, an accused in a murder case, could be on bail for most of the 19 years the trial dragged on.
“Last week when we met Mr. Gehlot in a delegation along with Medha Patkar and others to talk about land acquisition issues, he told us that the government had cleared Dr. Chishty's petition,” said Kavita Srivastava, general secretary, Rajasthan PUCL. Though Additional Chief Secretary (Home) P.K. Deb was not available for comments, it is learnt that the file is now stuck somewhere in the Law department.
Mr. Patil is expected to be in Jaipur next for the Independence Day ‘at home' in the Raj Bhawan and now the big question is: will that occasion finally herald the freedom of Dr. Chishty?