The Supreme Court’s ruling on Tuesday — that delay in execution was ground enough to commute death sentence to life imprisonment as also mental illness and solitary confinement — is expected to affect the case of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar. who was sentenced to death in August 2001 for the 1993 car bombing in New Delhi that killed nine people.
Lauding the judgment as “historic” and “humanist”, Bhullar’s lawyer K T S Tulsi said a curative petition in Bhullar’s case, which was filed in October last year, will be taken up in the apex court soon in the fresh light of Tuesday’s verdict. “It is a historic judgment that has been delivered by Justice Sathasivam, also making him the greatest humanist judge. The judgment has extended the barriers on the rights of death row convicts to acknowledge that mentally unsound prisoners should not be executed,” the senior advocate said.
Tulsi said Bhullar’s curative petition would be taken “in another 10 days” before a sentence is issued in his case, also suggesting there was a greater probability now that his death sentence would be commuted to life imprisonment.
Bhullar was found guilty by a trial court, which sentenced him to death in August 2001. His appeal against the conviction was dismissed by the Supreme Court in December 2006. The President rejected his plea for clemency in May 2011. In September 2011, the apex court allowed Bhullar to file an unprecedented second appeal, which was again rejected.
A petition filed in the Supreme Court last year argued that Bhullar’s death sentence be commuted to life in prison for he was now mentally ill due to the delay in his execution. The court rejected the plea on April 12, 2013, ruling that delay in deciding his mercy plea cannot be a ground for commutation of sentence.
In June 2013, the office of the then Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Tejinder Khanna deferred Bhullar’s execution, citing his “bad physical and mental health”. The decision was taken after a report submitted by a three-member panel of doctors formed by the Delhi government took an “objective, compassionate and humane view of the case”, “considering the deteriorating physical and mental health” of Bhullar.
Bhullar has been undergoing treatment at the Institute for Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences in Delhi since 2010. His execution was still pending as another medical panel is yet to re-examine his physical and mental condition, as recommended by the Delhi Lieutenant Governor, and also because the curative petition is pending in the Supreme Court.