Important issue: the question for consideration is whether long delay in deciding on mercy petitions entitles convicts to seek commutation of death sentence
The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed that the writ petitions filed by three convicts facing the death sentence in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case — Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan — be transferred to itself from the Madras High Court.
A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhaya passed this order on petitions filed by L.R. Venkat, president of the G.K. Moopanar Peravai, affiliated to the Congress, and two others, for shifting the case on the ground that the atmosphere in the Madras High Court was not conducive to a fair hearing.
The three convicts had filed the writ petitions challenging the rejection of their clemency plea by President Pratibha Patil after 11 years. The High Court on August 30, 2011 stayed their execution.
The Tamil Nadu government and some of the private respondents controverted Mr. Venkat and others' assertion that the atmosphere in the State “is highly surcharged and fair hearing of the writ petitions filed by the convicts is not possible in the Madras High Court.”
They pleaded that there was no impediment to the hearing of the writ petitions by the High Court and these should not be transferred merely because a similar issue was pending before this court. They also questioned the locus standi of the petitioners to seek transfer of the writ petitions, alleging they were merely busybodies and interested in publicity.
Writing the order, Justice Singhvi said: “Although, the parties have made diametrically opposite assertions about the atmosphere which prevailed in the State after rejection by the President of the mercy petitions filed by V. Sriharan @ Murugan and two others, we do not consider it necessary to decide whether the support extended by the political outfits and others to those who were found guilty of killing the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, may impede fair adjudication of the writ petitions filed by them warrants transfer of the three writ petitions from the Madras High Court to this court.”
The Bench said: “However, keeping in view the fact that an identical question is pending consideration before this court in the writ petition filed by Devender Pal Singh Bhullar and Mahendra Nath Das, we deem it proper to exercise power under Article 139A (1) of the Constitution.”
The Bench said “There is no dispute between the parties that the question which arises for consideration in the writ petitions filed by three convicts is, whether long delay in the decision of the mercy petitions entitles the convicts to seek commutation of the death sentence. This case is similar to the one raised in the cases filed by Devender Pal Singh Bhullar and Mahendra Nath Das. In our opinion, that question is of substantial general importance and a decision thereof is likely to affect a large number of persons who have been convicted by the competent courts and sentenced to death and whose mercy petitions have remained pending for years together. Therefore, we are satisfied that it will be in the interest of justice to transfer the three writ petitions pending before the Madras High Court.”
The Bench directed the Registrar-General of the Madras High Court to send the records of the three writ petitions to this court through a messenger within two weeks of receipt of communication from the Registry of this court.
The transferred cases would be listed for July 10 for final disposal. Notice should be issued to the writ petitioners that their case would be taken up for hearing by this court on July 10.