The Supreme Court on Monday commuted the death sentence of Khalistani terrorist Devenderpal Singh Bhullar to life imprisonment on the grounds of inordinate delay in deciding his mercy petition and on the grounds of mental illness.
The apex court bench of Chief Justice P Sathasivam, justice RM Lodha, justice HL Dattu and justice SJ Mukhopadyaya, while commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment referred to its January 21, 2014, verdict which said that inordinate, unexplained or unreasonable delay in deciding mercy petition was dehumanising to the death row convict and was a ground for commuting it to life imprisonment.
The verdict comes close on the heels of the Centre on Thursday telling the Supreme Court that it had "no problem" with commutation of the death sentence and the petition in this regard had to be allowed in view of the court's verdict that delay in deciding mercy pleas could be a ground for such relief.
Bhullar's wife had filed the petition against the apex court's earlier verdict which rejected her plea to commute the death sentence. The SC had on March 26, 2002, dismissed Bhullar's appeal against the death sentence awarded by a trial court in August 2001 and endorsed by the Delhi high court in 2002.
He had filed the review petition which was also dismissed on December 17, 2002. Bhullar had then moved a curative petition which too had been rejected by the apex court on March 12, 2003.
Bhullar, meanwhile, had filed a mercy petition before the President on January 14, 2003.
The President, after a lapse of over eight years, dismissed his mercy plea on May 14, 2011. Citing the delay, he had again moved the apex court for commutation of the death sentence but his plea was rejected.
The apex court on January 21 had held inordinate delay by government in deciding mercy plea of death row convicts could be a ground for commuting their sentence and had granted life to 15 condemned prisoners, including four aides of forest brigand Veerappan.