Supreme Court rejects Bhullar’s petition

Long delay by the President or the Governor in disposing of mercy petitions of persons convicted under anti-terror laws or similar statutes cannot be a ground for commutation of the death sentence, the Supreme Court held on Friday.

A two-judge bench gave this ruling while rejecting the plea of Khalistani terrorist and death-row convict Devinderpal Singh Bhullar in a judgment that paves the way for his execution and may have a bearing on the fate of over 20 convicts facing execution.

Among those whose execution has been stayed are three in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, though the Supreme Court had finally ruled that the killing of Rajiv Gandhi was not a terrorist act and taken the case out of the purview of the TADA. However, four associates of outlaw Veerappan are in a Karnataka prison after conviction under the TADA.

The Bench of Justices G. S. Singhvi and S. J. Mukhopadhaya said the Supreme Court’s earlier judgements holding that long delay might be one of the grounds for commutation of the death sentence could not be invoked in cases where a person was convicted for offences under the TADA or similar statutes.

“Such cases stand on an altogether different plane and cannot be compared with murders committed due to personal animosity or over property and personal disputes,” the Bench said.

Giving examples, the court said if murder was committed in an extremely brutal or dastardly manner, giving rise to intense and extreme indignation in the community, the court might be fully justified in awarding the death penalty. Bride-burning for the sake of money or greed was another example.

In Bhullar’s case, the Bench agreed that there was considerable delay in disposal of his mercy plea. Much of the delay could be attributed to the “unending spate of petitions” filed on behalf of the prisoner.

“It is paradoxical that the people who do not show any mercy or compassion for others plead for mercy and project delay in disposal of mercy petition as a ground for commutation of the sentence of death,” the Bench said.

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