The Supreme Court ruling on Friday that delay in deciding the mercy petition of a prisoner sentenced to death was no grounds to commute the sentence to life imprisonment, has come as disappointment to human rights activists campaigning for abolition of capital punishment.

The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the plea of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, a Khalistan Liberation Force terrorist condemned to hang for triggering a bomb blast that killed nine people in Delhi in 1993, that his death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment due to inordinate delay in deciding his mercy petition.

The ruling has stirred a debate on what impact it will have on the fate of four of Veerappan’s aides languishing in Belgaum jail whose mercy petition was rejected by the President. But the execution of the death sentence was stayed by the Supreme Court pending the disposal of the petition involving Bhullar seeking commuting death sentence to life imprisonment on the grounds of delay in carrying out the original sentence.

Gnanaprakash, Bilavendran, Simon and Meesekara Madaiah were awarded life sentence by the designated TADA court in September 2001 but the Supreme Court, in 2004, enhanced the punishment to death sentence as the four were found guilty of plotting and carrying out the Palar blast in which 21 policemen were killed in April 1993.

Their mercy petition before the President remained undecided for nine years till Pranab Mukherjee rejected it in February this year.

SICHREM stand

Speaking to The Hindu, Mathew Philips, South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM), said that the ruling came as a disappointment because as defenders of human rights they were against capital punishment.

“Even in the United Nations there is growing consensus towards abolishing the death sentence and the judicial system should take cognisance of the emerging views against death penalty and come out with a ruling that facilitates its abolition,” he added.

Human rights activist and advocate M. Ramesh of Belgaum said that the decision of the Supreme Court in the Bhullar case should not be interpreted that it would have the same impact on the fate of the four Veerappan aides as the grounds in the two cases were different.

Sharing his views, he said that there were other reasons being prayed for before the court and not just the element of inordinate delay. “All the four convicts were first sentenced to life imprisonment which runs for a period of 14 years but they have served a term which is much more than that. The rejection of the mercy petition by the President’s office came nearly after nine years,” he said.

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