The Centre today steered clear of the controversy over Tamil Nadu Assembly asking the President to reconsider the mercy pleas of Rajiv Gandhi's killers but said as long as death sentence is legal, courts will continue to award it.
"Since there are court proceedings, I can't comment on anything concerning the decision taken by the President or the resolution passed by the Assembly," Home Minister P Chidambaram told reporters here.
He was responding to questions on the adoption of a resolution by the Tamil Nadu Assembly requesting President Pratibha Patil to reconsider the mercy petitions of Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts--Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, and the Madras High Court's order staying their execution for eight weeks.
"No comment as the matter is pending in the court. I can't comment on the response (to be give to the court by the Home Ministry) unless the Ministry receives the notice of the court on the writ petition and the contents of the writ petition," he said.
Mr. Chidambaram said there have been precedents when people have moved courts after rejection of mercy petitions of death row convicts by the President.
"Yes, there have been earlier cases where after the decision of the President, people have gone to the courts. People have gone to court in Assam, people have gone to court in Delhi recently. I am sure that in the past also there would be cases where people have gone to courts after the President's decision," he said.
Asked about the relevance of death penalty, the Home Minister said it was a larger question which has to be debated in a separate forum.
Chidambaram said, "As long as there is a death penalty, courts will impose death penalty in what they call the rarest of the rare cases. So, the courts have imposed death penalty and all the mercy petitions were the cases where death penalty was imposed.
"The only cases that come to us are death penalty cases. So, whether death penalty should be in statute book or not, on that of course there are two views. But, at the moment, we are talking about administering the law," he said.
The Home Minister gave a detailed presentation on the mercy petitions of the death row convicts since the NDA regime and said when the opposition was in power, 14 mercy petitions were submitted to the President but not a single one was decided in those six years.
"After the UPA (government) was formed, my predecessor resubmitted the 14 cases and submitted 14 more cases. So, he submitted a total 28 cases to the President. Two cases were decided out of 28. So, that explains roughly 10 years and a few months," he said.
Chidambaram said he has inherited 26 cases which have been submitted along with a few more cases.
After discussions with the President, he said, as desired by the President, he re-examined all the cases and resubmitted 23 of them to the President for decision.
"The President's decision was received in 13 cases. I think in UPA-II, we have done our best to clear the arrears that had accumulated and tried to take the process forward as fast as we can.
"I don't think we could do anything faster. In about two years and three months, we have resubmitted 23 cases and we have got decisions in 13 cases. Now, these are the facts. Law etc., etc., are to be argued at the appropriate forum....," the minister said.
Chidambaram declined to comment when asked if the issue of mercy petitions has been politicised.