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Rajoana spared gallows, but government kept mum on decision

The Supreme Court was livid on Friday to find that the Centre kept a condemned man’s plea for presidential mercy hanging in limbo despite having decided over a year ago to spare his life.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde discovered that the Home Ministry had declared its resolve to commute the death penalty of Balwant Singh Rajoana, found guilty of the murder of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, in September last year.

Also read | No pardon has been given to Balwant Singh Rajoana: Amit Shah

The decision was taken in commemoration of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji in 2019.

However, the Ministry failed to make good its declaration till date. Rajoana, in a petition to the Supreme Court from his jail cell, said his repeated pleas to the government about the fate of the mercy plea were met with silence. The mercy petition was filed in 2012.

On Friday, Additional Solicitor-General K.M. Nataraj, for the Centre, explained that Rajoana’s plea for mercy was kept in abeyance because appeals filed by his fellow accused were pending in the Supreme Court.

Also read | Akali Dal welcomes commutation of Rajoana’s death sentence

“But if you have already taken a decision to commute his death sentence because of Guru Nanak Jayanti, why do you have to wait for a decision on the appeals filed by his co-accused?” CJI Bobde asked the government side.

The court said the law is settled that once the government has decided to recommend a presidential pardon for a condemned man, the pendency of appeals of his co-accused cannot delay the process initiated under Article 72 (presidential pardon) of the Constitution.

Moreover, the Chief Justice noted, Rajoana has no appeals pending in any court.

“His plea under Article 72 and your decision to commute the sentence have nothing to do with those pending appeals of others ... Tell us why you did not proceed under Article 72 on the basis of the decision arrived at on September 27, 2019?” Chief Justice Bobde asked.

The court gave Mr. Nataraj two weeks to make a statement if the September 27, 2019 proposal of the Centre to commute the death penalty of Rajoana would be processed and sent to the President for approval.

Rajoana, in his petition, said he had spent around 25 years in prison. Of this, he had spent 13 years awaiting his death penalty.

The case has been posted for January 8.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 8:18:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/rajoana-spared-gallows-but-government-kept-mum-on-decision/article33253215.ece

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