The government must not sit on mercy petitions of people like Afzal Guru — sentenced to death in the 2001 Parliament attack case — for too long, the Supreme Court has said.
If it does so, death row convicts should be entitled to get the sentence changed to life imprisonment, it observed.
Settle the issue within a reasonable period of time, ruled a bench of justices H.S. Bedi and J.M. Panchal on Friday. The details of the order were released later.
The court was dealing with an appeal from a Madhya Pradesh man, Jagdish, sentenced to death for killing his wife and five children in 2005.
Saying that human beings must not be used as pawns to further some larger political goal, the bench observed a convict on death row had the right to an early decision on his/her mercy petition.
The bench did not mention any case other than Jagdish’s by name. But it said there were 26 people on death row whose mercy petitions were awaiting decision.
“The condemned prisoner and his suffering relatives have, ... a very pertinent right in insisting that a decision in the matter be taken within a reasonable time, failing which the power should be exercised in favour of the prisoner.”
Reminding the government of its constitutional obligations, the bench said the observations “become extremely relevant as ... in some cases the courts had awarded the death sentences more than a decade ago”.
The Supreme Court had upheld Guru’s death sentence on August 4, 2005. His review petition and curative petition (last legal recourse) were dismissed in September 2006 and January 2007.
The court told the government its failure in taking timely decisions amounted to a violation of condemned prisoners' right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution.