In a judgement that could have a bearing on the fate of 17 other death row convicts, the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a Khalistani terrorist’s petition to have his death sentence commuted on the grounds that the president had taken too long to decide on his mercy plea.
The apex court ruled against Devender Pal Singh Bhullar, 48, paving the path to the gallows for the man convicted 12 years ago for a 1993 bomb blast in Delhi that killed nine and injured 17, including the then Youth Congress president MS Bitta.
Bhullar wanted his death penalty to be commuted on the grounds that there was an inordinate delay of eight years on the part of the president in deciding his mercy petition.
A bench of justice GS Singhvi and justice SJ Mukopadhyaya said that such a delay could not be cited to commute death sentences in terror crimes, unlike in case of murders committed due to personal animosity or property disputes.
Those on death row affected by the judgement include the assassins of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who have moved the Supreme Court on similar grounds. At present there is a stay by the court on their execution. The appeals for commutation of four aides of late sandalwood smuggler Veerappan are pending before a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Altmas Kabir.
If executed, Bhullar would be the third convict in terror-related cases to be hanged since November last year, the other two being 26/11 convict Ajmal Kasab and Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru.
The ruling Akali Dal in Punjab, which said it was "deeply sad" at the judgement, is sitting on the clemency plea of another Khalistan terrorist on death row, Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted in the assassination of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh.
Though the court agreed there was considerable delay in the disposal of Bhullar’s mercy petition, it said a substantial portion of the delay could be attributed to a spate of petitions filed by various persons on his behalf.
The court also rejected his family’s plea to save him from the gallows on the ground of mental illness, saying the documents submitted before it “cannot be relied upon for recording a finding that the petitioner’s mental health has deteriorated to such an extent that the sentence awarded to him cannot be executed.”
Bhullar’s Canada-based wife, Navneet Kaur, who was in the court when the verdict was pronounced, said she had lost all hope. “We have suffered a lot and waited for long. Our whole family has been ruined,” she said, adding justice had been denied to the family.
She questioned why the perpetrators of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots were still not behind bars. “Why are Kishori Lal, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar not being punished? Their trial is still going on after so many years and now the cout has ordered re-investigation in a case against Tytler,” she said.
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