A day after Yakub Memon, the sole death-row convict in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case, filed a second mercy plea soon after the Supreme Court rejected his curative petition, the Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that the practice of filing repeated mercy pleas should be stopped.
In an oblique reference to Memon’s case , solicitor general Ranjit Kumar told a constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India HL Dattu, “There must be finality to the case after the President or the Governor rejects the mercy plea and courts also dismiss their appeals. Repeated filing of mercy pleas frustrates the principle of finality.”
The bench was hearing the Centre's plea against Tamil Nadu's decision to remit the life sentences of seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and release them. Kumar contended the Jayalalithaa government could not show mercy to the killers as two constitutional authorities – the President and governor – had rejected their pleas for clemency.
Kumar said if the practice of allowing mercy petitions filed repeatedly was allowed, “the procedure will be endless and it is a misuse of the provisions”. The Chief Justice endorsed this view. “Yes, it will be an endless exercise,” he said. Memon’s curative petition was rejected on Tuesday by a bench headed by the Chief Justice, paving the way for his execution. But within hours, he filed a second mercy petition before the Maharashtra governor. His lawyers said the first mercy plea, rejected by the President last year, was moved by his brother.
The bench also sought to know if a governor could entertain a second mercy petition from a death row convict after the first one was rejected by the President. “Wouldn’t that embarrass the President?” it asked, without referring to Memon’s case. “What will happen if the governor takes a contrary view and thus embarrasses the President? Can we make a law on this or do you have any procedure on this?” the Chief Justice asked Kumar, who replied that the Supreme Court must frame suitable guidelines to prevent repeated mercy petitions.
Kumar said the governor can decide the mercy plea of a death-row convict even if it had been rejected by the President, provided there is a “change in circumstances”. However, he added that a convict cannot be granted remission under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) after constitutional authorities such as the President and the governor have rejected his or her mercy plea.
Kumar also told the court that in the Rajiv Gandhi case, the convicts’ death sentences were “commuted to [imprisonment] for the rest of their lives”, and in such a situation the Tamil Nadu government could not exercise its executive power to grant remission and order their release.
The Supreme Court had on February 20 last year stayed the Tamil Nadu government's decision to release three convicts – Murugan, Santhan and Arivu – whose death sentences had been commuted to life in jail. Later, it also stayed the release of four other convicts – Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran, citing procedural lapses by the state government.