Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Saturday said that his ministry would examine on merit the mercy petition of Balwant Singh Rajoana, sentenced to death for assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh and it would be submitted to the President for a final decision.
Mr. Chidambaram said that Rajoana's mercy petition, filed by Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandhak Committee (SGPC) and the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee, has reached the Home Ministry two days ago and has been added to the list of mercy petitions of condemned prisoners.
At his monthly press conference, Mr. Chidambaram said that execution of a condemned prisoner has to be put on hold once a mercy petition was filed before the President and it should be kept in abeyance till a decision was taken on the prayer.
He said guidelines in this regard were very clear. “Once a mercy petition is filed on behalf of a sentenced prisoner, the sentence cannot be executed unless there is a decision on the mercy petition. So, when we got the copy of the mercy petition (of Rajoana) from the President's Secretariat, we immediately drew the attention of the government of Punjab to the standing guidelines and the instructions,’’ he said.
“By drawing the attention of government of Punjab to the standing guidelines and instructions, does not mean the Home Ministry is expressing any opinion on the merits of the mercy petition,’’ he said.
Mr. Chidambaram said during his tenure as a Home Minister, he has received 33 mercy petitions and all but one have been submitted or resubmitted to the President for decisions.
He said that 32 mercy petitions have been submitted or re-submitted to the President and the President has taken a decision in 15 cases which in itself was a record for any President for any period of three years.
The Home Minister said mercy petition of Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru was still pending before the President for a final decision.
On recent abduction by Maoists in Odisha, he supported the steps taken by the State government in talking to the Maoists for the safe release of an abducted Italian and an MLA.
“Only course available to Odisha government is to hold negotiations with the extremists for the safe release of the two hostages. There are two people in captivity so the State government is right in appointing interlocutors to talk to the CPI (Maoists) or any other group that may have abducted the persons,’’ he said at the press conference.
Mr. Chidambaram said that he had spoken to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik several times and the Home Ministry officials were in regular touch with the Odisha government officials to ease the situation.
On the Centre’s offer of talks with the Maoists, he said the offer has been made several times in the past but the Left Wing extremists have to suspend violence once they agree to hold talks. “It is not that we don't speak until Maoists abjure violence. We have made them an offer for talks and we said please come for talks. The condition is that while we talk, they should not indulge in violence. They have rejected that offer. The onus is upon them to say that while we welcome the talks, while we are talking, there should not be any violence. Is that an unreasonable stipulation?,’’ he said.
Replying to question about American historian Peter Heehs, Mr. Chidambaram said that he would review the decision on cancellation of the visa to the historian who was living in Puducherry by Monday.
Mr. Heehs was asked to leave the country after he had spent nearly four decades while working on a project of digitisation and archival of works of freedom fighter and spiritual leader Sri Aurobindo.
“This (decision to cancel the visa) was noticed by me this morning and I understand that the FRRO Puducherry passed the order. I have asked for a suo motu review and I will take a decision on Monday,’’ Mr. Chidambaram told reporters.
Eminent historians and academics have protested against the move of cancelling the U.S. historian’s visa and have also petitioned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr. Chidambaram for reviewing the decision.