After the January 2014 verdict of the Supreme Court laying down guidelines on disposal of mercy pleas, the commutation of death penalty of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers was almost a foregone conclusion.
The way the government took 11 years in deciding the mercy pleas of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, the three men convicted of plotting former PM Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, it shows how serious it was about the matter.
This first commutation of a death sentence in a high profile assassination case has lessons for members of the executive for whom indecisiveness is second nature.
Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, all LTTE members, may even walk free as the court said the state government - in their case Tamil Nadu - could remit the jail sentence of the convicts who have been behind bars for nearly 23 years now.
Hangings are rare in India, with three in the last 18 years, though there are some 400 prisoners on death row in India.
In November 2012, India ended what many rights groups had interpreted as an undeclared moratorium on capital punishment when it executed Ajmal Kasab, who was convicted for the 2008 militant attack on Mumbai.
Three months later, it hanged Afzal Guru for the 2001 militant attack on Parliament. Guru, who was number 25 on the list for mercy plea, was executed in February 2013. His family feels the killing was not justified.
Aversion to Death Penalty
Courts in India are increasingly becoming averse to death penalty. Despite the “rarest of rare” doctrine, a large number of convicts are routinely awarded death penalty but actual executions are rare.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam asked the government on Tuesday to add inordinate delay in deciding mercy petitions as a criteria for considering commuting death penalty to life imprisonment.
The ministry of home affairs after getting the mercy petitions for Gandhi assassins from Tamil Nadu governor in April 2000, took more than five years to forward it to the President. The Centre failed to explain the delay.
Amnesty International said Tuesday's decision "shows the judiciary's willingness to uphold standards it set down for the treatment of prisoners on death row."
Going by the recent trend of SC limiting the scope for death penalty, India could very well be moving towards its complete abolition.