In a relief to a death row convict from Guwahati, the Supreme Court on Wednesday saved him from the gallows after commuting his sentence to life on the grounds that there was a delay of 11 years in deciding his mercy petition.
A bench headed by Justice GS Singhvi accepted Mahendra Kumar Das’s (50) contention that despite confirmation of death sentence by the Supreme Court, clemency petition must be disposed within a reasonable time.
Das’s appeal has been accepted by the same bench that had on April 12, this year rejected Khalistan terrorist Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar’s petition to commute his death sentence on account of delay in deciding his mercy plea. Bhullar was sentenced to death for the September 10, 1993 bomb attack on MS Bitta, then President of youth Congress.
Turning down Bhullar’s petition the bench drew a distinction between terror crimes and other criminal acts such as murder, saying delay in deciding mercy pleas could not be cited to commute death sentences in terrorist acts.
Das had last year launched a fast-unto-death in Jorhat Central Jail seeking abolition of capital punishment. Das was sentenced to death by a Guwahati court in 1997 for double murder — one in 1995 and the other in 1996 when he was on bail. The SC confirmed it in 1999.
Das’s mother Kusum Bala, 79, said from western Assam’s Barpeta district that her son deserved punishment but not death.
The Asian Centre for Human Rights welcomed Das’s commutation. “The SC’s judgment is a step in the right direction for eventual abolition of death penalty in India,” said Suhas Chakma of the New-Delhi based rights body.