Death-row convict Devinderpal Singh Bhullar's execution was on Friday stayed as the Supreme Court said it would have a relook at its own verdict that rejected his plea to commute death sentence to life on the ground that the President took eight years in rejecting his mercy petition.
Bhullar is facing death sentence for his involvement in the 1993 Delhi bomb blast that killed nine persons and injured 25. Then Youth Congress president Maninderjeet Singh Bitta was among the injured.
A bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam issued a notice to the Centre and Delhi government on a curative petition filed by Bhullar's wife Navneet Kaur.
The five-judge bench also directed the New Delhi-based Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), where Bhullar is being treated, to file a medical report within a week on his condition. Bhullar has claimed that he is suffering from mental illness.
"We want to know his present condition," the bench said. "We would examine whether our judgment (pertaining to commutation of death sentence to life term on the ground of delay in deciding the mercy plea) is applicable or not in this case," it added.
The hearing assumes significance since as per SC rules, a curative petition is decided in-chamber, after it is circulated among the top three judges of the court and those who delivered the verdict. A curative plea is the last resort available to a litigant seeking judicial review of the executive's decision.
Justice GS Singhvi, who headed the bench with justice SJ Mukopadhyaya, which declined Bhullar's petition and review plea in April 2013, retired in December last year.
The court decided to hold an open-court hearing in the wake of its January 21 judgment that overruled the SC's earlier verdict dismissing Bhullar's plea on the ground that he was charged with stringent provisions of the anti-terror law, TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act). The recent judgment said there couldn't be a distinction between terror and non-terror cases for giving relief on account of inordinate delay in the execution of death sentence.
A trial court had convicted Bhullar in 2001. The SC had on March 26, 2002, dismissed his appeal against the 2002 Delhi high court order upholding his death sentence. The apex court rejected his review plea on December 17, 2002, and a curative petition on March 12, 2003. Meanwhile, Bhullar filed a mercy petition before the President on January 14, 2003.
After a lapse of more than eight years, the President dismissed his mercy plea on May 14, 2011.
September 11, 1993: Bomb blast kills nine in Delhi; then Youth Congress president Maninderjeet Singh Bitta among those injured
August 2001: Trial court awards death sentence to Devinderpal Singh Bhullar after his conviction in the bomb blast case
March 26, 2002:Supreme Court dismisses Bhullar's appeal against Delhi high court order upholding his death sentence
January 14, 2003: Bhullar files mercy petition before President
May 14, 2011: President dismisses mercy plea
January 31, 2014: Supreme Court stays Bhullar's execution