Hopes of an early decision on the mercy petition of Mohammed Khalil Chisty, the Pakistani doctor who is undergoing life sentence in Rajasthan's Ajmer Central Jail, have been dashed after the acting Governor, Shivraj Patil, on Tuesday returned the file to the State's Home Department with a list of queries.
The clemency plea from the 78-year-old virologist, supported by a large number of human rights activists including Supreme Court Judge Justice Markandey Katju, journalist Kuldip Nayar and filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, was cleared by Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot last Friday. The mercy petition from Dr. Chisty is also pending before President Pratibha Patil.
The President's power to grant mercy in such cases comes under Article 72 of the Constitution while that of the Governor is under the provisions of Article 161.
Dr. Chisty, sentenced over a murder which took place in the Ajmer Sharif Dargah premises in 1992, is beset by a host of health problems, including a hip fracture. Those supporting his release are, in fact, worried as to whether he would be able to make it back to Karachi in one piece. While unlikely, they also wish that the announcement of his release would come before June 23, when the foreign secretaries of both India and Pakistan are scheduled to meet in Islamabad.
Mr. Patil, who is stationed at Chandigarh — being the regular Governor of Punjab — reached the Rajasthan capital on Monday and called on State's Home Secretary P.K. Deb on Tuesday to discuss the issue. The meeting reportedly lasted an hour, during which Mr. Patil listed many queries, including one on why the trial took such a long period — 18 years; the sentence came in January this year. For all practical purposes, Mr. Patil returned the file to the Home Department.
Now, eminent men of law question the wisdom of the Governor's exercising such an option. They point out that even the highest court of law has, in the past, acted on the advice of the government. “There are several decisions of the Indian Supreme Court that, even in the matter of granting pardon, the President/Governor has to act on the advice of the government and not on his own discretion,” observed an eminent judge, commenting on the delay, which he termed “procrastination”.
The human rights activists here are a bit disappointed but not, in any way, disheartened.
“The campaign, consisting of several of us on both the sides of the border in India and Pakistan, are not going to be demoralised by this,” said Kavita Srivastava, general secretary, People's Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan. “We will continue working for the release and send Dr. Chisty back home. We will meet all the [necessary authorities] and ensure his early release.”