Citing new SC ruling, 14 former judges had pleaded for commutation
President Pranab Mukherjee has rejected the mercy petition of death-row convict Saibanna Ningappa Natikar, currently lodged in the Central Prison at Hindalga, Belgaum, Karnataka. This is his second rejection after assuming office as the President. He signed the order on January 4.
The first rejection was that of Kasab, the convict in the 26/11 Mumbai terror case hanged on November 21.
Saibanna had submitted his mercy petition following the confirmation of his death sentence by the Supreme Court’s two-Judge Bench on April 21, 2005. Saibanna was a life convict for the murder of his first wife. While on parole in September 1994, suspecting the fidelity of his second wife, he killed her and his daughter, and attempted to commit suicide.
‘Judgment of error’
Fourteen former Judges had recently appealed to Mr. Mukherjee to commute Saibanna’s death sentence to life imprisonment, in view of Supreme Court’s admission in 2009 in another case that the Court’s confirmation of his death sentence in 2005 was per incuriam (judgment delivered out of error or ignorance).
In Santosh Kumar Bariyar v. State of Maharashtra (2009), the Supreme Court held that the Court’s confirmation of death sentence in Saibanna’s case fell foul of two binding judgments of the Supreme Court, namely, Mithu Singh v. State of Punjab (1983) and Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980).
In Mithu Singh, the Supreme Court’s five-Judge Constitution Bench struck down Section 303 of Indian Penal Code, prescribing mandatory death sentence (prescribed under Section 303 of Indian Penal Code) for convicts found guilty of committing murder while serving life sentence.
In Bachan Singh, another Constitution Bench had held that death sentence is constitutional if it is prescribed as an alternative for the offence of murder and if the normal sentence prescribed by law for murder is imprisonment for life.
In Saibanna, the Supreme Court was doubtful whether a person already undergoing imprisonment for life could be visited with another term of imprisonment for life to run consecutively with the previous one. Instead of resolving this doubt, the Court confirmed his death sentence. In Bariyar, the Court admitted that the Bench in Saibanna effectively made death punishment mandatory for the category of offenders serving life sentence.
The Karnataka High Court which first heard Saibanna’s appeal against the death sentence gave a split verdict. His appeal was then referred to the third Judge, who confirmed his death sentence.
The Supreme Court, while confirming Saibanna’s death sentence, had relied on Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab, which was on November 20 last year considered per incuriam by a two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Sangeet v. State of Haryana.