Decide within 6 weeks on Rajoana’s mercy plea: SC to Centre

The Supreme Court on Friday gave six weeks to the Centre to decide on the mercy plea of Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted in then Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh’s assassination case, after the government said that the apex court should wait for President’s decision on the issue.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde and comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian that Rajoana was involved in the assassination possibly due to Khalistan issue.

Mehta said that the government had already started the due process on Rajoana’s plea, on which President Ram Nath Kovind will take a decision. He sought adjournment in the matter in the backdrop of the given circumstances.

When the bench asked if Mehta could give a time frame for a decision by the President, he replied that he can speak to the government and not the President.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing on behalf of Rajoana, contended that his client’s mercy petition has been pending for nearly nine years and insisted that the matter should not be adjourned beyond two weeks.

The court had earlier deferred hearing a number of times on the Centre’s request. Last month, the Supreme Court gave “last chance” to the Centre to decide on Rajoana’s mercy plea.

A bunch of mercy pleas have been filed on behalf of Rajoana, who contends that he has been on the death row for 10 years, which is sufficient to reduce his sentence to life term.

The top court had asked the Centre when it would send Rajoana’s proposal to the President under Article 72 of the Constitution for commutation of his death sentence. This Article deals with the power of the President to grant pardon, suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases.

The top court had noted that on September 7 last year, a letter was sent by the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Punjab Chief Secretary to intimate that a proposal would be sent to the President to commute Rajoana’s death sentence.

The Chief Justice had cited this letter by the MHA, which said that the release of some prisoners was proposed, including Rajoana, to coincide with the celebrations regarding the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.