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PC kept Pratibha in dark about Kalam view on mercy plea

New Delhi, May 2, 2013, DHNS: 1:55 IST

SC commutes death sentence to life term

Pratibha Patil
Former home minister P Chidambaram had kept President Pratibha Patil in dark while recommending in 2010 the rejection of mercy plea of Assam convict Mahendra Nath Das that her predecessor A P J Abdul Kalam had earlier in 2005 allowed his prayer for clemency.

This fact was noted by an apex court bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya while commuting the capital punishment awarded to Das to life term.
The court also held that about 12 years’ delay in disposing of his mercy petition was sufficient for the commutation of death sentence.

In the verdict released on Thursday, the court also noted that the Union government did not produce any material to show that they had sought reconsideration of the decision taken by Kalam on September 30, 2005, by placing the complete file before President Patil or she was asked to review the previous decision.

President Patil rejected the mercy petition of Das on May 8, 2011. “Therefore, it must be held that the President was not properly advised and assisted in the disposal of the petition filed by the appellant,” the bench said.

“The omission to make a mention of the order passed by her predecessor leads to an inference that the President was kept in dark about the view expressed by her predecessor and was deprived of an opportunity to objectively consider the entire matter,” the court added.

After perusing the files, the court said there was no explanation for the time lag in deciding his petition. The court described it as “ most intriguing” that though the initial note in the MHA made a reference to Kalam’s views, the final recommendation signed by then Home Minister Chidambaram on October 18, 2010, did not even make a mention of the 2005 opinion by the then President.

“While making recommendation on October 12, 2010, to the successor in the office of the President that the appellant’s mercy petition be rejected, the home minister did not even make a mention of note dated September 30, 2005 (Kalam’s note). In the summary prepared by the Home Ministry for the President’s consideration, which was signed by the Home Minister on October 18, 2010, also no reference was made to the order and note dated September 30, 2005, of the then President,” the bench said.
“Why this was done has not been explained,” the bench added.

The same bench of apex court last month dismissed a petition filed by Khalistan terrorist D P S Bhullar for commuting his death penalty due to delay in deciding his mercy plea saying that it cannot be ground for review of the President’s decision.
It had also held that the judicial review of the President’s decision could not be undertaken in cases of those held guilty of terror-related charges.

Das, at present lodged in Jorhat central jail, had approached the apex court for commutation of his death sentence on the ground of delay. While out on bail in a murder case, he on April 24, 1996, beheaded one Harakanta Das in Assam and surrendered with a severed head.

He was sentenced to capital punishment which was upheld by Gauhati High Court in 1998 and the apex court in 1999. His mercy plea was rejected by the governor in 2000 but was kept pending in Rashtrapati Bhavan for 11 years.

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