26 petitions pending with President's Secretariat

Terrorism knows no religion, and as much emerges from a scrutiny of 29 mercy petitions filed by Indian death row prisoners. Of these, 26 are pending with the President's Secretariat, while the others, including the petition filed by Afzal Guru, who was convicted in the Parliament attack case, are “under examination” in the Home Ministry.

The details, which were accessed by Right to Information activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, show that in all, nine convicted terrorists, including Afzal Guru, have sought commutation of the death sentence.

But, significantly, Afzal Guru is the only “Muslim” terrorist on the list. His petition is also the most recent. Rajiv Gandhi's assailants — Murugan, Santhan and Arivu — top the list with a mercy petition that dates back to 2000. The petition took five years to reach the President's Secretariat, where it has since been pending

Next comes Devender Pal Singh, who was sentenced to death for a terrorist act by a Special TADA Court in August 2001. The sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court in March 2003. The same year, Singh, who was convicted in a bomb blast case, filed a mercy petition. It reached the President's office in 2005.

The third terrorism case involves Simon, Gnanaprakash, Madaiah and Bilavendra, who were convicted of killing 22 Karnataka police personnel by blasting landmines. In September 2001, a trial court in Karnataka awarded all of them life imprisonment, which was enhanced by the Supreme Court to the death penalty. Their collective mercy petition, filed in 2004, has been pending with the President since 2005.

Afzal Guru was sentenced to death in December 2002. The trial court's sentence was confirmed by the Delhi High Court in November 2003 and by the Supreme Court in August 2005. His mercy petition, filed in 2006, has been going back and forth between the Home Ministry and the Delhi government.

Mercy petitions can be sent to either the President's office or the Home Ministry. However, the Constitution prescribes no time limit for their disposal, leading to indecision by successive Presidents, and in some cases, by governments.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam decided only two mercy petitions — in 2004 he rejected the plea of rape convict Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was later hanged, and in 2006, he commuted Kheraj Ram's death penalty to life imprisonment.

President K.R. Narayanan did not clear any mercy petition.

President Pratibha Patil, who inherited a backlog of 25-odd cases, the earliest dating back to 1997, has decided only one case so far. In November 2009, she commuted R. Govindasamy's death sentence to life imprisonment.

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