A larger bench of the Supreme Court will hear from October 22 a batch of petitions seeking commutation of their death sentence into life imprisonment on account of delay in carrying out the execution following the dismissal of their mercy petitions by the President.
“Death sentence matters will be taken up immediately after the Dussehra holidays from October 22,” a bench, comprising Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi, said.
Before taking over as the CJI, Justice Sathasivam had told PTI that there was a need for “authoritative pronouncements” by a larger bench or a Constitution Bench on issues like mercy pleas to avoid conflicting views by smaller benches.
The hearing by a larger bench assumes significance as on April 12, a two-judge bench had held that long delay in disposing off mercy pleas by the President or the Governor of persons convicted under anti-terror laws or similar statutes cannot be a ground for commutation of death sentence.
The ruling was pronounced while rejecting the plea of Khalistani terrorist and death row convict Devinderpal Singh Bhullar.
When the April 12 judgement was delivered, there were over 20 convicts facing execution. Later on, an apex court bench had granted relief to a condemned prisoner M N Das who had sought conversion of his death sentence to life imprisonment on the ground of delay in deciding his mercy plea.
On February 18 this year, a bench headed by Justice Sathasivam, which in an urgent hearing had stayed the execution of death sentence of sandalwood smuggler Veerapan’s associates in a Karnataka jail, had said it would wait for the Bhullar’s case judgement before dealing with other identical petitions.
It had stayed the execution of death sentence of Veerappan’s elder brother Gnanaprakash and his aides Simon, Meesekar Madaiah and Bilavendran.
The outcome of the hearing before a larger bench will also have its bearing on three persons Murgan, Santhan and Perarivalan who are awaiting execution after conviction under TADA in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
A bench headed by Justice Sathasivam had on April 6 stayed the execution of eight more death row prisoners, convicted in different murder cases, whose clemency pleas were rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee.
The eight convicts facing death row in different cases are Suresh, Ramji, Gurmeet Singh, Praveen Kumar, Sonia and her husband Sanjeev, Sundar Singh and Jafar Ali.
The apex court had passed the orders on the plea of either the convicts or civil rights group and public spirited persons who had filed the petitions on behalf of the death row prisoners.
In its petition, Peoples Union of Democratic Rights (PUDR) had challenged the rejection of the mercy pleas of the eight convicts contending there has been delay in carrying out their execution even after it was confirmed by the apex court.
While Suresh, Ramji, Gurmeet Singh and Jafar Ali are lodged in prisons in Uttar Pradesh, former Haryana MLA Ralu Ram Punia’s daughter Sonia and her husband Sanjeev are jailed in Haryana. Praveen is in a Karnataka jail and Sundar Singh is an inmate in a prison in Uttaranchal.
Sonia and Sanjeev were awarded death penalty for killing eight members of her family, including her parents and three children of her brother, in 2001.
Gurmeet Singh was convicted for killing 13 of his family members in 1986. Jafar Ali murdered his wife and five daughters. Suresh and Ramji killed five of their relatives.