15 convicts on death row get SC reprieve
Veerappan aides, Bhullar to benefit
The Supreme Court on Tuesday converted the death penalty awarded to 15 convicts to life term by holding that unreasonable delay in the disposal of mercy petitions by the President or governors could be a ground to commute death sentence.
A three-judge bench presided by Chief Justice P Sathasivam also laid down guidelines to “safeguard” the interests of death row convicts in view of disparities in different state prison manuals and the procedure adopted to deal with mercy petitions.
The 12 points listed out by the court mandated the authorities, among others, to give a minimum 14-day notice before execution, mental health evaluation, final meeting with families and post mortem of the convicts after hanging.
The bench held that the ground of unexplained delay for commutation of death sentence would be available to all convicts, including those facing terror charges.
The 156-page verdict comes as a relief to Khalistan sympathiser D P S Bhullar, whose mercy petition was rejected by the apex court on the grounds of grave terror charges against him.
Bhullar had petitioned the court on the point of delay in disposal of mercy petition and his poor mental health.
Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins V Sriharan alias Murugan, T Suthendraraja alias Santhan and A G Perarivalan alias Arivu, whose separate petitions will be taken up by the apex court later this month, may also get the benefit of the judgment.
While dealing with 13 separate petitions, the bench said, “We are of the cogent view that undue, inordinate and unreasonable delay in execution of death sentence does certainly attribute to torture which indeed is in violation of Article 21 (Right to life and liberty) and thereby entails as the ground for commutation of sentence.”
However, the bench, also comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh, said that the nature of delay–undue or unreasonable–must be appreciated on the facts of each individual case and no exhaustive guidelines can be framed in this regard.
The judgment comes as a fresh lease of life to seven convicts from Karnataka. Four among them are forest brigand Veerappan’s associates Bilavendran, Simon, Gnanprakasam and Madiah, rape-cum-murder convicts Shivu and Jadeswamy, and one Praveen Kumar.