Won’t commute Rajoana’s death sentence, says Supreme Court | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Won’t commute Rajoana’s death sentence, says Supreme Court

May 04, 2023 02:27 AM IST

Rajoana’s sister Kamaldeep Kaur said the judgment was “unfortunate”, and added that her brother no longer posed any threat to society

Stating that it is for the Union government to take a call on “such a sensitive issue”, the Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to commute Babbar Khalsa terrorist Balwant Singh Rajoana’s death sentence to life imprisonment, adding the Centre may “in due course of time” consider his mercy plea in connection with former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh’s assassination in 1995.

Balwant Singh Rajoana.(HT_PRINT)
Balwant Singh Rajoana.(HT_PRINT)

Read here: SC declines to commute death penalty of Beant Singh's killer Balwant Singh Rajoana to life imprisonment

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A bench led by Justice BR Gavai noted that the stand of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to defer the decision on the mercy petition for commutation of Rajoana’s death penalty on grounds of national security and the law and order situation “actually amounts to a decision declining to grant the same for the present”.

“It would not be within the domain of this court to delve upon the decision of the competent authority to defer taking of any decision at present. It is within the domain of the executive to take a call on such sensitive issues. As such this Court does not deem it appropriate to issue any further directions,” said the bench, also comprising justices Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol.

Rajoana’s sister Kamaldeep Kaur said the judgment was “unfortunate”, and added that her brother no longer posed any threat to society. “What threat does he pose to society after being in jail for 28 years, of which he has been on death row for 16 years,” asked Kamaldeep, who unsuccessfully contested for the Sangrur parliament constituency in 2022 on a Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) ticket.

The judgment, authored by justice Nath, further noted that the Centre cannot be accused of an inordinate delay in the matter since Rajoana never filed a mercy petition himself and the one pending before the President was moved by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), a Sikh religious body, in 2012.

In the communication issued by MHA in September 2019 commuting Rajoana’s death sentence to a life term coinciding with the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the court noted, MHA did stipulate that his case would be processed under Article 72 of the Constitution of India that gives clemency powers to the President.

“After the directions issued by this Court on December 4, 2020 and May 2, 2022, the matter was again considered by the competent authority and it was decided to defer the question of commutation in view of the reasons given in the affidavit filed by MHA. Thus, it cannot be alleged that there has been an inordinate delay in disposal of the mercy petition,” said the top court.

Refusing to allow Rajoana’s petition seeking commutation of his death penalty in view of the delay and the prolonged period of his incarceration, the bench directed that “the competent authority, in due course of time, would again as and when it is deemed necessary, may deal with the mercy petition, and take a further decision.”

Rajoana, a former Punjab Police constable, was convicted for his involvement in an explosion outside the Punjab civil secretariat that killed Beant Singh and 16 others in 1995. A special court in July 2007 awarded the death sentence to Rajoana, along with another terrorist Jagtar Singh Hawara, in the assassination case. Rajoana was the second human bomb in case the first one would have failed in killing the Congress leader.

Rajoana was scheduled to be hanged on March 31, 2012 – two years after the Punjab and Haryana high court confirmed his capital punishment. The execution was however stayed on March 28, 2012, by the then Congress-led government at the Centre after SGPC filed a mercy petition with the President. The Shiromani Akali Dal, which was then in power in Punjab, also campaigned against his execution.

The President at that time forwarded the mercy plea to the MHA, which is still pending. In its September 2022 affidavit, the central government told the Supreme Court that a decision on the mercy plea has to be deferred for the time being because “it has a serious potential of compromising the security of the nation or creating a law-and-order situation.” This affidavit stated that Punjab being a border state, any decision on the mercy petitions filed on behalf of Rajoana has to be taken keeping in view the overall security scenario and terrorism perspective of the state.

The government and the Central Bureau of Investigation, which investigated the 1995 assassination case, opposed Rajoana’s plea filed in 2020 for commutation of his sentence arguing that President is the final authority in the matter of granting clemency and that the September 2019 communication by MHA does not confer any right on Rajoana. CBI also added any decision on Rajoana’s clemency must await the outcome of three criminal appeals pending before the Supreme Court in relation to the co-accused in the case.

Read here: SC order ‘unfortunate’, ‘my brother not threat to society’, says Rajoana’s sister

Representing Rajoana, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi emphasised that his client was entitled to commutation in light of the 2019 communication and also because he has been on death row for 15 years and incarcerated for 26 years. He cited the case of another terror case convict Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, whose life term was commuted by the Supreme Court in 2014 over an inordinate delay by the government in deciding his mercy plea.

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