Addressing media criticism, a Rashtrapati Bhawan communiqué has explained President Pratibha Patil’s handling of the mercy petitions of 35 persons on death row in terms of her constitutional obligation of having to act on the government’s advice.
It said she discharged her obligation without “doling out generosity or acting like an inveterate hangman (sic)”. The controversy has its genesis in commutation to life imprisonment the death sentences of those convicted of heinous crime such as rapes and murders of women and children.
Citing Supreme Court judgments, the communiqué noted when the President worked as part of the constitutional scheme, the word President was an ‘abbreviation’ of the Central government.
Article 72 of the Constitution has conferred on the President the powers to grant clemency. But the President acted in terms of the government’s binding advice under Article 74 and not in her own judgment.
“This has been authoritatively laid down by the Supreme Court. The power to pardon is part of the constitutional scheme and not a private act of grace on the part of the President,” the communiqué said.
The Supreme Court had in recent judgments advocated minimising delays in disposing of mercy petitions in pursuance of the condemned prisoners’ “pertinent right” to decisions within reasonable time.
As several mercy petitions remained undecided for more than a decade, the matter was discussed in Parliament in February last year, with the government intending to expedite decisions on such pleas.
All the 23 backlog cases from previous presidencies were recalled and re-visited by the home minister and fresh advice tendered for the consideration of the President, who took a decision only after she was satisfied. Some fresh cases for commuting the death penalty to life imprisonment were also placed before her.
Seeking to dispel the impression that many brutal criminals have been shown mercy, the communiqué said the death penalty was always awarded in the rarest of rare cases.