Delayed decision on mercy pleas could go in favour of Rajiv killers | delhi | Hindustan Times
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Delayed decision on mercy pleas could go in favour of Rajiv killers

The Madras high court order staying the execution of three men convicted of assassinating former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi has raised many questions regarding the manner in which power to grant pardon is exercised in India. Satya Prakash reports.

delhi Updated: Aug 30, 2011 23:41 IST
Satya Prakash

The Madras high court order staying the execution of three men convicted of assassinating former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi has raised many questions regarding the manner in which power to grant pardon is exercised in India.

Knowing that the scope of judicial review of a decision taken by the President under Article 72 or by a governor under 161 of the Constitution is very limited, the Supreme Court and high courts have so far not reversed any such decision in a major case.

But the SC has made it clear that the government's failure to decide a mercy plea within a reasonable timeframe can be a ground for commuting the death penalty to life imprisonment.

"We must…say with the greatest emphasis that human beings are not chattels (slaves) and should not be used as pawns in furthering some larger political (goal) or government policy", a bench headed by Justice HS Bedi had said in 2009 judgment.

If the inordinate delay was for reasons not attributable to the convict, "it would…be open to a condemned prisoner, who has been under a sentence of death over a long period of time…to contend that the death sentence should be commuted to one of life," it said.

The court had reminded the government that its failure in taking expeditious decision will amount to violation of condemned prisoners' right to live with dignity as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Empathising with the plight of condemned prisoners and their families, the SC had said: "There can be no justification for the execution of a prisoner after much delay."

It said, "the cruelty of capital punishment lies not only in the execution itself and the pain incident thereto, but also in the de-humanising effects of the lengthy imprisonment prior to execution…

"What makes it worse for the prisoner is the indifference and ennui which ultimately develops in the family, brought about by a combination of resignation, exhaustion, and despair. What may be asked is the fault of these hapless individuals and should they be treated in such a shabby manner," the SC wondered.

Given the nature of the case and the fact that three lives are at stake, the HC's final order is bound to be challenged in the SC, whose decision will have bearing on all decisions on mercy pleas, including that of Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru.