Supreme Court clears decks for Bhullar execution

The Supreme Court on Friday cleared the way for the execution of a Sikh militant, rejecting his appeal in a ruling that could lead to more death sentences being carried out.

Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar from northwestern Punjab, who was convicted over a New Delhi car bombing that killed nine people in 1993, had appealed for his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment on the grounds that he had spent two decades on death row.

Mentally ill convicts

He also challenged the right of the state to execute mentally ill convicts, claiming he had developed psychological problems while languishing in prison, including schizophrenia.

A Supreme Court bench ruled that neither his lengthy wait in prison nor his apparent mental problems were reasons to set aside the death sentence. "The petitioner has not been able to make out a case for commuting his sentence," Justice G.S. Singhvi said, reading out the judgement.

The ruling was being followed by more than a dozen other prisoners whose executions have also been held up for decades, including three men convicted over the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

17 death row convicts

"After this judgement, India will have to resume execution including of 17 death row convicts who had filed petitions before the courts on the grounds of delay," said Suhas Chakma of the New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights.

"India must decide whether it wants the tag of the top five executioners of the world along with China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq," Chakma said in a statement.

Indian courts hand down death sentences for the "rarest of rare" crimes but the country had not carried out an execution for eight years until last November when it put to death the only surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

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