Delay in the execution of a death row convict after his capital punishment has been confirmed by the highest judicial forum, torments the prisoner, has a dehumanising effect on him and violates the law, the Delhi High Court has said.
“As between funeral fire and mental worry, it is the latter which is more devastating, for, funeral fire burns only the dead body while mental worry burns the living one,” a bench of Justices G S Sistani and Vinod Goel said while referring to former Supreme Court judge K Jagannatha Shetty’s observation in a similar matter.
The bench, in its judgement, commuted to life term the capital punishment awarded to 31-year-old Sonu Sardar in a case relating to the murder of five persons including two children in November 2004 in Chhattisgarh.
It set aside the President of India’s and Chhattisgarh Governor’s orders rejecting the mercy plea, but made it clear that “life imprisonment means (till the) end of one’s life”.
Noting that there was a delay of about three years in the process of adjudicating the convict’s mercy petition, the bench said “there can be no doubt that it is incumbent upon the executive to expedite the process at every stage.”
The President had rejected Sardar’s mercy petition on May five, 2014 and the Governor in April 2013.
“Once the sentence of death has been confirmed by the final judicial forum, any hope of acquittal which might be lingering on in the mind of the condemned prisoner is foreclosed and the spectre of death starts looming upon him.
“One never knows when he might be called upon to answer the call of the hangman. This uncertainty, i.e. the doubt of a tomorrow, is what burns the living body,” the court said.
The bench said this was “a form of additional torment not mandated by law, not part of the sentence awarded to the convict and hence, it violates the constitutional protections.
“This delay inserts a dehumanising factor in the execution of the sentence of death inasmuch it deprives one of his life in an unjust, unfair and unreasonable way, running awry of the due process of law enshrined in Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution,” the high court added.
The bench noted that there was a delay, which though “unexplained, is not unreasonable, nor is it inordinate to be a supervening circumstance vitiating the decisions of the Governor and the President”.
Sardar, along with his brother and accomplices, had killed five persons of a family, including a woman and two children, during a dacoity bid in Chhattisgarh’s Cher village on November 26, 2004.
The trial court had slapped death penalty on him in February 2008 and the Chhattisgarh High Court had upheld it on March 8, 2010.
The Supreme Court in February 2012 had concurred with the findings of the two courts and affirmed the punishment. His mercy petition was also dismissed by both the Governor and the President. In February 2015, the apex court had also rejected his review plea.
The convict then moved the high court seeking quashing of the orders of the President and the Governor rejecting the mercy petition. He had also sought commutation of the death sentence into life imprisonment on account of delay, improper exercise of power and illegal solitary confinement.