President Pranab Mukherjee and the home ministry, it is learnt, have differed on commuting the death sentence of Khalistani terrorist Devinderpal Singh Bhullar to life term in view of his mental illness, with Mukherjee favouring the Delhi Lieutenant-Governor’s recommendation to commute the death penalty.
The MHA is against allowing Bhullar’s mercy petition.
The petition, filed by his wife Navneet Kaur last April, is pending decision before the President. Citing the pendency, the Central government has been seeking time from the Supreme Court, where a curative petition by Kaur is to be adjudicated.
Attorney General G E Vahanvati, while appearing for the Central government, had Monday told a bench led by Chief Justice P Sathasivam that despite his best efforts, a final call on the mercy petition could not be taken in the last two weeks due to the matter being discussed as a “policy decision”.
The Indian Express has, however, learnt the delay was caused due to the divergence of opinion between the President and the MHA.
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According to sources, Mukherjee, who has rejected 11 mercy petitions so far, feels Bhullar’s mental health condition warranted commutation and that he could not be executed in the present circumstances.
Mukherjee also relied on Delhi Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung’s opinion, which was based on the recommendation of a medical board and was sent to the MHA in January. In his opinion, Jung had described Bhullar as a “child without a mind and in poor health” while favouring commuting his death sentence to life term “on principles of human ethics and natural justice”.
However, the MHA opposes any mercy for Bhullar, citing his terror-related act of triggering a bomb blast in New Delhi in September 1993, which killed nine people and injured 25, including then Youth Congress president M S Bitta.
It also highlights that Bhullar’s mercy petition had already been rejected once by previous President Pratibha Patil in May 2011 after the case was examined in detail and hence the issue required no further consideration.
On the point of Bhullar’s mental health condition, the MHA is of the opinion that his execution will always be subjected to the provisions of the jail manual, which lay down situations when a prisoner cannot be executed. However, the MHA feels commutation by the President will send a wrong signal.
Both the President’s office and the MHA refused to comment when reached by The Indian Express, saying the matter was still under consideration.
The apex court is set to hear Kaur’s curative petition on March 27 now, and the court has said that the government should take a decision on the mercy petition by then or leave it to them to decide the matter on legal arguments.
The curative petition by Bhullar’s wife had got a fresh lease of life after a constitution bench of the apex court recently ruled that mental illness was also a ground for commutation.
Staying Bhullar’s execution, the court had on January 31 sought to know from the Centre and Delhi government why his death sentence be not commuted because of the delay in deciding the mercy plea and in view of his mental illness.
The Centre subsequently assured the court that Bhullar will not be executed in his present health condition and sought to put up the mercy petition before the President.