Right decision

The Supreme Court’s order commuting to life imprisonment the death sentences of the assassins of late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi is in accordance with the welcome guidelines prescribed by the court for the enforcement of capital punishment. The court had only last month laid down the principle that unexplained and long delays in the disposal of mercy petitions were a valid ground for commutation of death sentences. It had accordingly given relief to 15 convicts facing the gallows.

 The court had also indicated that the decision would hold good for all similar cases. The three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case -- Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan -- have been under the death sentence for 13 years and waiting for a decision on their clemency pleas for 11 years. Death sentence itself is cruel and inhuman and keeping people in the dark area between life and death for so long is still more so. It is a gross violation of their human rights and flies against the humanitarian values which should form the basis of the law and the conduct and actions of the state.

The Tamil Nadu government has decided to release all convicts in the case, including the three, subject to the Centre’s approval. The Centre should resist the temptation to file a review petition against the court’s decision on the ground that the delay was on the part of the President and not because of its tardiness. This is not factually correct also because the mercy petitions were lying unattended in the home ministry for five years before being sent to the President. The nature of the crime is also not material because the death sentence is the wrong retribution for any crime, political, personal or motivated by other reasons. The death sentence on another convict, Nalini, had in any case been already commuted. One convict among the three whose sentences have been commuted had only a minor role in the conspiracy that led to the assassination.

Political parties in Tamil Nadu had campaigned for the commutation of the death sentence and release of the convicts for the wrong reasons. The campaign had become especially active because of the impending elections. But the fact that they are Tamils could not be a valid ground for clemency. The undesirability of capital punishment rests on solid grounds of principle and the proven record of its inefficacy to prevent crimes. It is repugnant to the values of an enlightened society.

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