The Supreme Court on Monday commuted the death sentence awarded to Devendra Pal Singh Bhullar in the '1993 Delhi bomb blast case' into life imprisonment applying the principle that inordinate and unexplained delay in disposal of mercy petition by the President of India and mental illness are grounds for commutation.

A four judge Bench of Chief Justice and Justices R.M. Lodha, H.L. Dattu and S.J. Mukhopadhaya granted the relief to Bhullar on a curative petition filed by his wife Navneet Kaur.

Writing the judgment the CJI Sathasivam said, “On January 21, a three-Judge Bench of this court in Shatrughan Chauhan case held that insanity/mental illness/schizophrenia is also one of the supervening circumstances for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment. By applying the principle enunciated in this case, the accused cannot be executed with the said health condition.”

Further the Bench said the medical report clearly showed that Bhullar was suffering from acute mental illness. It says, “The scope for effective treatment options is limited and thereby the chances of his recovery remain doubtful in the future course of his illness.”

The Bench said, “We appreciate the fair stand taken by the Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati that Bhullar’s death sentence could be commuted to life term applying the principle of January 21 judgment and we accept the same.”

The Bench further said a two-judge Bench of this Court had dismissed Ms. Kaur’s writ petition challenging inordinate delay in disposal of mercy petition by the President on the ground that when the accused was convicted under TADA, there was no question of showing any sympathy or considering supervening circumstances for commutation of death sentence.

However, the CJI said this judgment was over-ruled by the January 21 judgment as per incuriam (not to be followed as a binding precedent). He said, “In the light of the ratio laid down in Shatrughan Chauhan case, we deem it fit to commute the death sentence imposed on Devender Pal Singh Bhullar into life imprisonment both on the ground of unexplained/inordinate delay of 8 years in disposal of mercy petition and on the ground of insanity.”