SC to hear plea against Bhullar's death penalty

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would hear in open court a plea by the wife of Khalistan supporter D P S Bhullar for commutation of his capital punishment.

A four-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice P Sathasivam passed the order while entertaining a curative petition filed by Navneet Kaur.

The bench, also comprising Justices R M Lodha, H L Dattu and S J Mukhopadhaya, put the petition for hearing on Friday. The curative petition was taken up for consideration in the chamber of the judges.

In a significant ruling, the apex court on January 21 spared 15 death-row convicts by converting their sentence to life term. It had then held that unreasonable delay in disposal of mercy pleas by the President or governors could be a ground to commute the death sentence.

The verdict provided a fresh glimmer of hope for Bhullar, whose plea for commutation of capital punishment was earlier rejected by the apex court in view of the grave terror charges he had been convicted for. He had petitioned the court on the point of delay in disposal of mercy petition and his poor mental health.

The three-judge bench had held that inordinate delay could be the ground for commutation of death sentence to all convicts, including those facing terror charges. The latest verdict superseded a two-judge bench decision of August 14 last year, which had dismissed a review petition filed by Bhullar against the April 12 verdict rejecting his plea to allow commutation of death penalty into life term.

Bhullar (49), then teaching in Guru Nanak Engineering College Ludhiana, had been sent to the gallows by a Tada court after being held guilty of carrying out an explosion on the car cavalcade of the then Youth Congress president Maninderjit Singh Bitta here on September 10, 1993.

The apex court upheld his conviction and punishment in 2002 and rejected the review and curative petitions. In its April verdict, the apex court rejected his contention that he had become mentally ill waiting for a decision since filing his mercy petition on January 14, 2003. “His health has not deteriorated to such an extent that the sentence awarded to him cannot be executed,” the court had then said.

The 2003 mercy petition was forwarded to the President in 2005 after having been rejected by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The final decision by the President was taken in 2011 only after Bhullar approached the Supreme Court seeking commutation of his punishment due to delay.

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