Unfair delays

It was five years ago that the then President, APJ Abdul  Kalam, had sent to the union home ministry a mercy petition of Afzal Guru, who had been sentenced to death for his role in the attack on Indian parliament in 2001. The ministry has now returned the file to  President Pratibha Patil with a recommendation that the clemency plea may be rejected. It is 10 years since the offence for which Afzal Guru was convicted took place.

The President rejected last week the mercy petitions of three persons who had been sentenced to death in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The crime for which they were convicted took place more than 20 years ago. In these and many other similar cases the correspondence between the President, the home ministry and the government of the state where the offence took place takes years to reach a final decision. This is unfair and undesirable in many ways.

The Afzal Guru case had become controversial because some sections in the country wanted rejection of the petition and his swift execution and the government dillydallied.  Both had political considerations. The case of the Rajiv Gandhi killers was also not free of politics. But it has been seen that even when politics is absent it takes years for a decision to be made on a mercy petition.

This is because there are no guidelines and no time limit to deal with such cases at the level of the President, the ministry and the state government. Even now the Afzal Guru case can linger on indefinitely because the President is not bound to take a decision any time soon. There is no administrative reason for the delay in processing mercy petitions. In fact after a death sentence is passed by a lower court the process of appeals and mercy petitions should be fast-tracked.

Keeping prisoners in the death row indefinitely is to kill them every moment. The delay and uncertainty cause much mental torture and are a violation of their human rights. This newspaper is against death sentence as a deterrent punishment. While it is there on the statute book it should be administered fairly and humanely.  There should be clear guidelines on the matter and a reasonable time frame should be set for action and decision at every stage of a mercy petition.

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