President assent may be final for death sentence
New Delhi: The Union home ministry has conveyed to the ministry of law that the President’s decision on capital punishment should be considered final after the legal procedure is completed and that the President’s decision, once taken, cannot be challenged in court.
The MHA had a tough time during the tenure of the previous UPA government when a string of cases, including terror cases, were commuted by the Supreme Court on grounds of delay in carrying out the execution after the President had rejected mercy pleas. The MHA had filed for reviews of individual cases which were also rejected by the Supreme Court.
Top sources said the law ministry is now preparing to file a curative petition shortly on behalf of the Central government against the top court order commuting death sentences of at least 15 convicts, as well in the case involving commutation of death penalties awarded to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s killers to life terms citing an 11-year delay.
"A combined curative petition will be filed in the SC for all the cases where death sentences have been commuted to life terms despite the President’s rejection of the same," a top government official said.
The MHA, in its draft affidavit sent to the law ministry, is learnt to taken the view that the President is the sovereign authority and once the President exercises the constitutional powers vested in him under Article 72 and rejects a mercy petition, the court only has limited powers for judicial review.
The MHA has also taken the view that the government needs to take a tough stand on "terror-related" cases and other "heinous crimes" falling in the rarest of rare category and attracting capital punishment. Such cases, if commuted, do not send out a positive signal, an official said.
Thirdly, the MHA has conveyed to the law ministry that the inordinate delays being cited on behalf of the government in disposing of mercy petitions by themselves cannot be sufficient grounds for commuting death sentences. Moreover, since there is no time frame set for the President to decide on a mercy plea, there is no question of delay on the part of the President.
Among the 15 cases granted clemency on grounds of delay by the SC in January this year were the death sentences of forest bandit Veerappan’s aides Bilavendran, Simon, Gnanprakasam and Madiah, for killing 22 police officers; Sundar Singh, who was facing death for murdering five members of a family; and Maganlal Barela, for killing his five daughters.
In February, the top court cited similar reasons of delay while commuting the death sentences to life imprisonment of three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Devinderpal Bhullar, sentenced for attempting to assassinate former Youth Congress chief Maninder Singh Bitta, was also granted clemency on similar grounds.