On January 21, 2014, the Court held that inordinate and inexplicable delay in deciding mercy plea can be a ground for commuting death sentence

The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear the plea of Khalistan Liberation Force terrorist Devinderpal Singh for commutation of death sentence awarded to him for the September 1993 blast to life imprisonment in an open court.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and justices R.M. Lodha, H.L. Dattu and S.J. Mukhopadhaya decided to hear the curative petition filed by Bhullar’s wife Nevneet Kaur on Friday.

The hearing assumes importance in view of the January 21 judgement of a three-judge Bench holding that inordinate and inexplicable delay by government in deciding the mercy plea of a death row convict can be a ground for commuting the sentence.

Bhullar’s wife filed the petition for a relook at the apex court verdict which rejected her plea to commute his death sentence to life imprisonment on grounds of delay on the part of the government in deciding his mercy plea.

Bhullar was convicted of and awarded death penalty for triggering a bomb blast in New Delhi in September 1993, which killed nine persons and injured 25 others, including the then Youth Congress president M.S. Bitta.

The apex court on March 26, 2002 dismissed Bhullar’s appeal against the death sentence awarded by a trial court in August 2001 and endorsed by the Delhi High Court in 2002.

He filed a review petition which was dismissed on December 17, 2002. Bhullar then moved a curative petition which too was rejected by the apex court on March 12, 2003.

Bhullar, meanwhile, filed a mercy petition before the President on January 14, 2003.

The President dismissed his mercy plea eight years later on May 14, 2011. Citing the delay, he had again moved the apex court for commutation of the death sentence but his plea was rejected.

The apex court on January 21 had held that inordinate delay by government in deciding mercy plea of death row convicts can be a ground for commuting their sentence and had granted life to 15 condemned prisoners including four aides of forest brigand Veerappan.

In a landmark judgement, the court had held that prolonging execution of death sentence has a “dehumanizing effect” on condemned prisoners who have to face the “agony” of waiting for years under the shadow of death during the pendency of their mercy plea.

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