The Centre indicated on Friday that it would not be pressurised by the Opposition into taking any hasty decision on the fate of Parliament attack accused Mohammed Afzal who has been awarded death sentence.
It was made clear in the Lok Sabha that the Home Ministry would take its own time in forwarding its recommendation on his mercy petition to the President as the matter would be settled only after due consideration.
Dismissing BJP-led Opposition's charge that the UPA Government was trying to "evade its responsibility" in the case, Home Minister Shivraj Patil said it would proceed on the issue with extreme caution and do the "needful" without being influenced by any external factors. He stated this while replying to a private member's Bill, moved by CK Chandrappan of CPI, seeking abolition of capital punishment.
Citing detailed statistics, Patil pointed out to the BJP members that during the five years of NDA rule at the Centre, not a single death sentence was carried out and a large number of such cases were commuted to life imprisonment despite the fact that as many as 527 persons were awarded capital punishment by courts between 2000 and 2004.
He also recalled that mercy petitions in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi were left pending for years under the NDA rule.
The Home Minister emphasised that the government would follow the principle that while death penalty continued to exist under law, it would be carried out with extreme caution in the rarest of rare cases only.
He said that while the government was not opposed to awarding capital punishment in extreme cases, "when such a provision is used, it must be used in a very careful manner so that no injustice is done".
Addressing BJP members like Rasa Singh Rawat and Satya Narayan Jatia, who criticised the government on the Afzal issue demanding that he must be sent to the gallows, Patil urged them not to "play politics" on the matter just as the Congress had refrained from raising the issue of Rajiv's assassins during the NDA regime.
Members were divided on the question of abolition of capital punishment in India with many opposing it. On Patil's request, the Bill was later withdrawn by Chandrappan who was assured that the government would look into the proposal at an appropriate time.
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