A week after the Supreme Court ruled that “delay is a ground for commuting death penalty to life sentence”, the government is set to file a review petition against the verdict.
Meanwhile, the court is set to hear on Thursday the petition filed by three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case — Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan — who have pleaded for commutation of their death sentences, citing delay in disposal of their mercy pleas.
The Indian Express has learnt that the home ministry has communicated to the government’s law officers in the Supreme Court that they should urge the court to reconsider its January 21 verdict by filing a review plea. The apex court had commuted the death penalty of 15 convicts, who had challenged their sentences on the grounds of delay by the President in deciding on their mercy pleas and mental illness.
The government plans to draw a distinction between cases registered under the Indian Penal Code and those under more stringent laws, especially under anti-terror and anti-sedition laws. The thrust of the petition, according to sources, would be that while a considerate view may be taken for convicts in criminal cases, those held guilty in terror cases should not be spared merely due to delay by the government in deciding on their mercy pleas.
In their verdict last week, the three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh had held that the right to seek mercy is a constitutional right “not at the discretion or whims of the executive”, and there cannot be any distinction based on whether a person on death row was convicted on charges of terror or otherwise while entertaining their petition.
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The government proposes to seek four weeks time for filing its review plea. On Wednesday, Additional Solicitor General Sidharth Luthra informed the bench that Attorney General G E Vahanvati has been asked to argue against the appeal filed by the three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The trio’s mercy petitions were rejected by then President Pratibha Patil in 2011, 11 years after the Supreme Court upheld their death sentences.
As Luthra sought adjournment till Monday, Ram Jethmalani, who appeared for one of the convicts, opposed the move. “My suspicion is that they want time ultimately to see that this matter is not heard. In the meantime, they will file a review petition and will come back to court,” he told the bench.
The court said it was also not in favour of adjourning the matter any further, and fixed the hearing for Thursday. The order puts pressure on the government to file a review petition before its law officers start arguing the case.