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Bhullar case may have bearing on Rajiv killers

CHENNAI, April 12, 2013, DHNS: 3:15 IST

Legal puzzle: ‘Executive delays’ not sufficient reason for commuting death penalty

Devinder Singh Bhullar
The Supreme Court decision on Friday rejecting the plea of Devinder Singh Bhullar’s family to commute his death sentence to life on grounds of inordinate delay in deciding his mercy petition earlier, has ‘shocked’ political parties in Tamil Nadu campaigning for the commuting the death penalty on three accused in the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi assassination case – Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan – to life on similar grounds.

While Bhullar was awarded the capital punishment for the September 1993 bomb blast in New Delhi that killed nine people, the fate of the three death convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi case, lodged in Vellore Central prison, has now become all the more precarious following the apex court’s judgment in the Bhullar case that ‘executive delays’ was not sufficient reason for commuting a death penalty.

After the President rejected the mercy petitions of the three death convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi case, their execution was initially scheduled on September 9, 2011. But it was then stayed by the Madras High Court on their plea that the President had taken an unduly long time to decide on their mercy petitions. That prayer is yet to be decided by the Supreme Court.

However, Friday’s judgment has rung an alarm bell for Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, besides for four associates of slain forest brigand Veerappan condemned to death in the Palar Blasts case and lodged in Belgaum Central Jail in Karnataka. The line of reasoning applied to reject Bhullar’s family’s latest plea by the apex court could well impinge on these cases too, besides to three others from Tamil Nadu sentenced to death for the ‘Dharmapuri bus burning case.’

Expressing serious apprehensions on the impact of the Bhullar case verdict on these cases, PMK founder-president S Ramadoss said in a statement here that the only state remedy now to “save the lives of three Tamils convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, namely Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, was for the Tamil Nadu Cabinet to use its powers under Article 161 of the Constitution, to pass a resolution immediately urging the state Governor to revoke on the death sentence on the above three death convicts.”
Ramadoss said the state Cabinet had the power to pass such a resolution, similar to the resolution passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly in August 2011, in a bid to stay the execution of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan. Moreover, about 125 countries in the world had abolished the death penalty, he pointed out. Similar appeals to the state government were made by the Dalit Panthers leader Thol Thirumavalavan, and some other pro-Tamil outfits.

Justice K T Thomas, retired judge of the Supreme Court, had in February urged that the death penalty handed down to the three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi case should be ‘reviewed,’ even as several political leaders including DMK President M Karunanidhi and human rights and civil society groups have been pressing for the abolition of the death penalty from the statute book. Leader of the MDMK Vaiko has been for long in the forefront of legal and political efforts to get the three accused in the Rajiv Gandhi case released from the Vellore jail.

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