Don't sit over mercy pleas: SC

Don't sit over mercy pleas: SC

Human beings are not chattels and should not be used as pawns, say judges

The remark was made on Friday by a bench of Justice Harjit Singh Bedi and Justice J M Panchal, which added that its observations “become extremely relevant as of today on account of the pendency of 26 mercy petitions before the President of India, in some cases, where the courts had awarded the death sentences more than a decade ago.”

The 26 condemned prisoners include Mohammed Afzal Guru, convicted for his role in the December 13, 2001, terrorist attack on Parliament.  As the Congress-led UPA government has failed to take a decision on Afzal’s mercy plea, the opposition BJP has repeatedly accused it of playing vote bank politics.

“We, as judges, remain largely unaware as to the reasons that ultimately bear with the government in taking a decision either in favour of the prisoner or against him but whatever the decision, it should be on sound legal principles related to the facts of the case,” the bench said.

“We must say with the greatest emphasis that human beings are not chattels (property or slave) and should not be used as pawns in furthering some larger political or government policy.” The apex court cautioned the government that any delay in decision would amount to violation of condemned prisoners’ right to life with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution owing to “dehumanising effects of the lengthy imprisonment prior to the execution.”

In its ruling, delivered on Friday but released late on Saturday, the bench even suggested that the failure in taking timely decisions on mercy pleas of condemned prisoners may accord them and their relatives with positive rights to seek commutation of their death penalties into life terms.

The bench gave the ruling while upholding the death sentence of a drug addict who had hacked his wife and five children to death.