The president’s decision to reject or accept a mercy plea of a death row convict is final according to the Constitution and courts cannot interfere with it, the government will tell the Supreme Court, a move likely to have a bearing on several pending cases.
Disagreeing with the May 1 SC judgment that commuted the death sentence of Assam resident Mahendra Nath Das to life imprisonment on the grounds of a 12-year delay in disposing of his mercy petition, the home ministry is exploring all legal options.
“Once the mercy petition has been decided by the highest constitutional authority, the President of India, the courts should not allow reopening of the case since it has already achieved finality,” the ministry has said in an internal note, accessed by HT.
The line that the president’s decision on mercy petitions is a “sovereign act after courts have given their verdict and it can’t be subjected to repeated reviews” could effect the outcome of several high-profile cases that are pending in the top court, including that of killers of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Das was found guilty of murdering a man in a Guwahati market and death sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court in 1999. He filed a mercy petition, which was rejected by President Pratibha Patil in 2011.
The home ministry has asked the law ministry to prepare a review petition and even consider requesting the SC to set up a special Constitution bench to decide on all issues related to mercy petitions.
"Entertaining an appeal after the president has rejected a mercy petition amounts to reopening the case, which has already been decided by the Supreme Court, could lead to an unending exercise," the note says.
The government is likely to tell the top court that delay in deciding mercy pleas cannot be a ground for commuting the death sentence as it does not reduce the heinous nature of the crime.