The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the pardon granted by the president or state governors was not the last word. The clemency can be reviewed by the courts.
The court's observation is significant at a time when the mercy petition of Mohammed Afzal Guru, sentenced to death in the Parliament attack case, is awaiting the president's consideration.
A bench of justices Arijit Pasayat and SH Kapadia said the power to pardon had to be exercised according to the rule of law. It should not be compromised on considerations of religion, caste or political expediency.
The court refused to lay down any guidelines to regulate the exercise of this power the president and governors possess. But it said, "A pardon obtained by fraud or granted by mistake or granted for improper reasons would invite judicial review."
The court expressed this view while setting aside the then Andhra Pradesh governor Sushil Kumar Shinde's decision to reduce the sentence of a Congress worker, Gowru Venkata Reddy. Reddy was convicted of killing two persons, one of them a Telugu Desam Party activist, in 1995 and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment.
In August last year, on a petition filed by Reddy's wife, an MLA, Shinde reduced the sentence to three years, which he had already served, and set him free. Terming the governor's order "unsustainable", the court said the state government might treat Reddy's petition as a pending one for the purpose of reconsideration.
The bench said the "power of executive clemency is not for the benefit of the convict", and the president and governors should consider the effect of their decision "on the family of the victims, the society as a whole and the precedent it sets". Pardons and remissions, it said, are not "acts of grace". "The exercise of executive clemency is a matter of discretion and yet subject to certain standards. It is not a matter of privilege. It is a matter of performance of official duty," it added.