There were sharp differences between the external affairs and home ministries on whether to recommend to the President, commutation of convict Devender Pal Bhullar’s death sentence into life imprisonment, official documents show.
The matter was hotly debated in 2005 with the then external affairs minister Natwar Singh having favoured Bhullar’s sentence to be converted into life imprisonment citing international relations, but then home minister Shivraj Patil outrightly rejected this argument.
The exchange between these two senior ministers within 10 months of Congress-led UPA government coming to power in May 2004, has been revealed by the Rashtrapati Bhawan in response to RTI queries posed by activist SC Agrawal.
A bunch of mercy petitions had been filed on Bhullar’s behalf seeking clemency for him, after all his legal remedies had been exhausted in 2003.
Since some of these petitions were from prominent international personalities and organisations, including the President of Germany, members of the European Union, US Congress and UK’s House of Commons MEA took up the matter.
“The MEA, with the approval of the then minister Natwar Singh, informed the home ministry that it favoured commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment,” the Rashtrapati Bhawan reply reveals.
“The views of the MEA were considered by the home ministry. Its plea was, however, not accepted on the grounds that bilateral relations cannot be a deciding factor in the enforcement of criminal justice system and procedures cannot be guided by extraneous factors,” the reply further stated.
The home ministry had made it clear that Bhullar, “being an Indian criminal, needed to be dealt by Indian laws.”
It had sent the file seeking rejection of his mercy petition to the then President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in July 2005.
The matter was however, finally decided six years later by Kalam’s successor, Pratibha Patil, in May 2011.
The MEA was keen on life imprisonment for Bhullar, since the German government had sent it repeated reminders that a Frankfurt court had declared his deportation illegal on the ground that its laws did not permit sending any individual to a country where he could be punished with a death sentence.