The Supreme Court on Monday gave two months to the Centre to decide on the mercy plea of Balwant Singh Rajoana, who was sentenced to death for his role in the assassination of then Punjab chief minister Beant Singh in 1995.
A bench headed by Justice U.U. Lalit and comprising Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and P.S. Narasimha said the decision by the Centre should be taken as early as possible, “preferably within two months from today”.
In March, the top court had directed the Centre to immediately take a decision on granting pardon to Rajoana and asked it to file an action taken report on the decision and scheduled the matter for hearing on May 2.
The bench noted that pending appeals of co-convicts would not come in the way of deciding Rajoana’s plea to commute his death sentence.
During the hearing, Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj, representing the Centre, contended that the mercy petition was not filed by Rajoana, instead by an organisation. The bench told Centre’s counsel that it had decided in September 2019 to commute the death penalty of Rajoana to a life sentence on the special occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev. It further added that more than two years have passed but a decision has not been taken in the matter. Justice Lalit observed, “They are all citizens of this country…need to deal with compassion…”
The bench told Nataraj that when the Centre has to take a decision in the matter, how would the state government process the matter under Article 161? “It is something to be processed…what have you done these years on this,” queried the bench. Concluding the hearing, the top court gave two months to the Centre to take a decision in the matter.
In the previous hearing, the top court had expressed displeasure over the government not taking any clear stand despite being given time by the court to do so. The bench noted that once the government has decided to recommend a presidential pardon for a convict, the pendency of appeals in the top court of his co-accused cannot delay the process initiated under Article 72. The Supreme Court had questioned the Centre over delay in sending proposal to the President for commuting Rajoana’s death penalty.
The top court was hearing a plea — filed two years ago — seeking implementation of a decision taken by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in September 2019 to commute Rajoana’s death sentence to life.
Rajoana has been in jail for 25 years awaiting his execution. In 2007, he was sentenced to death by a special court. His mercy petition has been hanging fire for more than eight years. The plea contended that inordinate delay has caused agony and adversely affected his mental and physical health.
The plea also cited Devender Pal Singh Bhullar’s case and claimed that delay caused by circumstances beyond the prisoners’ control mandates commutation of death sentence.