In a stern message that mercy petitions of death row prisoners should not be used for political ends, the Supreme Court had asked the central government to get moving on mercy petitions pending with it.
However, this message came eight months ago.
The most famous prisoner awaiting death is Parliament attack convict Mohammad Afzal Guru. And it could also have an impact on a possible mercy petition by Ajmal Kasab. But the UPA government continues to sit on the mercy pleas of more than 50 prisoners on death row.
“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 H S Bedi had said.
The court had said that inordinate delay could give the option for the convict to ask for his or her sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment. The court also reminded the government that delaying its decision violated the condemned prisoners’ right to live with dignity.
Reminding the government of its constitutional obligations, the bench had said the observations “become extremely relevant as of today on account of the pendency of …mercy petitions before the President of India, in some cases, where the Courts had awarded the death sentences more than a decade ago.”
The condemned prisoners, awaiting the President’s decision on their mercy petitions, include Mohd Afzal Guru, convicted for his role in the December 13, 2001 terror attack on Parliament, in which 14 persons including the five terrorists were killed.
Senior advocate K T S Tulsi said: “The government’s policy of endlessly sitting over mercy petitions seems to have diluted the old doctrine that it’s cruel to delay decisions on mercy plea.”
Asked about 26/11 convict Kasab’s case, which is likely to lead to a mercy petition, he said: “Kasab’s case is a class in itself. The queue argument does not hold good in this case.”