'Delay can't lead to commuting death'
Supreme Court rejects Bhullar’s mercy plea
The Supreme Court on Friday held that death sentence cannot be commuted to life term because of delay in decision on mercy plea by the President. The apex court observed this while dismissing a petition filed by Khalistani terrorist D P S Bhullar.
The court held that judicial review of the President’s decision could not be undertaken in cases of convicts guilty of terror-related charges.
A bench of justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya admitted to “considerable delay” in disposing of Bhullar’s clemency plea, but also noted the seriousness of his offence - causing death of nine “innocent” persons and injuring 17 others by triggering a bomb blast using 40 kg of RDX - to refuse any interference.
The bench ruled that the court can interfere with the President or the governor’s decision only when relevant factors were not considered.
“While examining challenge to the decision taken by the President under Article 72 or the governor under Article 161 of the Constitution, as the case may be, the court’s power of judicial review of such decision is very limited. The court can neither sit in appeal nor exercise the power of review, but can interfere if it is found that the decision has been taken without application of mind to the relevant factors or the same is founded on the extraneous or irrelevant considerations or is vitiated due to malafides or patent arbitrariness,” the bench said.
The ruling will have a direct bearing on 16 other cases, including slain prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins and Sandalwood smuggler Veerappan’s associates, who had challenged the President’s decision to reject their mercy pleas on similar grounds. The apex court relied upon judicial pronouncements in Sher Singh and Triveniben’s cases, besides other judgments. It held that long delay may be a ground for commutation of capital punishment to life term, but cannot be invoked in cases where a person was convicted under TADA or similar statutes.
Bhullar (48), who was teaching at Guru Nanak Engineering College in Ludhiana then, was held guilty and sent to the gallows by a TADA court for executing an explosion on a car cavalcade of erstwhile Youth Congress president Maninderjit Singh Bitta here on September 10, 1993. The apex court upheld his conviction and punishment in 2002 . The court also rejected Bhullar’s contention that he had become “mentally ill” while waiting for a decision.
“His health has not deteriorated to such an extent that the sentence awarded to him cannot be executed,” the court stated.
Bhullar’s Canada-based wife, Navneet Kaur, said her family has not got justice.
In its 70-page verdict, the court, while holding that India was “one of the worst victims of internal and external terrorism,” called it “paradoxical” that terrorists who neither show mercy and nor respect human lives, later plead for it citing delay in disposal of clemency pleas. “Many others join the bandwagon to espouse the cause of terrorists, involved in gruesome killing and mass murder of innocent civilians and raise the bogey of human rights,” the bench added.
Bhullar’s mercy petition was forwarded to the President in 2005 after being rejected by the Home Ministry. The final decision was taken by the President in 2011 after Bhullar approached the Supreme Court seeking commutation of his punishment.
Going through records, the court noted a “disturbing phenomena” where mercy petitions filed between 1999 and 2011 remained pending for one to 13 years.