The Supreme Court has said the former President, Pratibha Patil, was kept in the dark about the view expressed by her predecessor Abdul Kalam for commutation of the death sentence awarded to Mahendra Nath Das of Assam to life imprisonment.

A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadaya, in a judgment on Wednesday, explained the reasons for commuting the death sentence including a 12-year-delay in disposing of his mercy petition. Writing the judgment, Justice Singhvi pointed out that since the views of Mr. Kalam were not placed before his successor, Ms. Patil was deprived of an opportunity to objectively consider the matter.

What “is most intriguing” is that even though in a note dated October 5, 2010 prepared by the Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home, a reference was made to Mr. Kalam’s note dated September 30, 2005, while making a recommendation on October 12, 2010 to his successor that the appellant’s mercy petition be rejected, the Home Minister did not even make a mention of the September 30, 2005 note, the Bench said.

Also, in the summary prepared by the Home Ministry for the President’s consideration, which was signed by the Home Minister on October 18, 2010, no reference was made to the order and note dated September 30, 2005 of the then President. “Why this was done has not been explained by the respondents. Though the file containing the petition filed by the appellant and various notings recorded therein must have been placed before the President [Ms. Patil], the omission to make a mention of the order passed by her predecessor and the note dated September 30, 2005 from the summary prepared for her consideration leads to an inference that the President was kept in dark about the view expressed by her predecessor and was deprived of an opportunity to objectively consider the entire matter.”

Referring to the 12-year gap between submission of the mercy petition and its rejection, the Bench said the Union of India tried to explain this, by citing correspondence between the Centre and the Assam government, and consideration of the matter at different levels in the Home Ministry. “However, no explanation has been given for the gap of three years between June 20, 2001, when the then Home Minister made a recommendation for rejection of the mercy petition, and September 2004, when the file again started moving within the Ministry, and [the lag of] five years between September 30, 2005, the date on which the President [Mr. Kalam] opined that the mercy petition be accepted, and September 2010, when the file was actually summoned back by the Home Ministry.”

Having regard to all circumstances of the case, the Bench said, the rejection of the mercy plea “is declared illegal and quashed, and the sentence of death awarded to Das by the trial court, which has been confirmed by the Gauhati High Court and this court, is commuted to life imprisonment.”

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