The Supreme Court on Thursday described the Punjab government action seeking clemency for Balwant Singh Rajoana — and the subsequent stay of his execution by the Union Home Ministry — as a “drama” enacted by the State government.

A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhaya made this observation during the hearing of the petitions filed by Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar seeking commutation of his death sentence to life sentence on the ground of an 11-year-delay in deciding his clemency petition.

It may be noted that clemency for Rajoana has taken a political colour, though the convict himself had declined the mercy plea to save his life.

Even as Additional Solicitor-General Harin Raval was making his submissions, Justice Singhvi told him: “We would have liked to avoid everything. But what has happened for the last four days in a particular State is a telling situation. Had a decision been taken at an appropriate time, the public exchequer would have been saved to the tune of many crores. A person is convicted of a pre-dawn murder of a Chief Minister [Beant Singh]. It has been noticed that a person is guilty of terrorism and in this case [he] found support of political parties. Parties have garnered support from such persons. How can they now leave them? It is all drama.”

Mr. Raval said invoking Article 21 (Right to Life) was irrelevant in the case of a convict who took away the life of another person. When the convict curtailed another person's right under Article 21, it would be meaningless to claim the same right for him.

Justice Singhvi, however, said: “The framers of the Constitution had provided for Articles 72 and 161 for those who violated the rights of others. There is place for mercy even those who took away the lives of others. People are governed by the old value system. Our culture teaches ahimsa and non-violence, yet misguided people indulged in violence. That is why the clemency power is vested in the highest executive of the state. Onerous responsibility is vested in him/her to take a decision.”

Mr. Raval maintained that the President, while rejecting Bhullar's petition, had decided that he was not entitled to mercy and that decision was not subject to judicial review. He said delay in deciding the mercy petition would not render the decision unconstitutional. For, the decision would depend on the facts of each case, the number of mercy petitions pending consideration, etc. Arguments will continue on April 3.