All the 16 mercy petitions that President Pranab Mukherjee turned down recently may not necessarily suffer the same fate as that of Devinderpal Singh Bhullar,whose plea for commutation of death sentence was rejected on Friday by the Supreme Court,as they will be decided on a case-by-case basis,Rashtrapati Bhawan sources said.
While accepting that Fridays judgment fully endorsed the decision taken by then President Pratibha Patil to reject Bhullars mercy petition,the sources maintained it can be taken as a precedent in only those cases where the grounds for seeking commutation of death sentence are exactly the same. Every case will always have to be judged on its individual merit. How can they be viewed in the same yardstick, a source said.
At the same time though,they pointed out that there was not a single case in Indias independent history where a Presidential decision to reject a pardon plea by a death row convict had been overturned subsequently by the Supreme Court.
Fridays court order,in fact,took note of the lone instance of K P Mohammad in 1978 whose death sentence was commuted to life only because Rashtrapati Bhawan failed to dispose of his mercy plea for four-and-a-half years. In that case though,then President had not taken any decision on the petitioners mercy plea.
Contending that mercy petitions follow a meticulous process within the government,the sources said there was little room for erroneous observations. Technically,it is the President who takes a final call on mercy petitions under Article 72 of the Constitution,but he never goes against the governments opinion. The Union Home Ministry,which is the key ministry that has been mandated to take a view on the petitions,considers it from all possible perspectives and gives its recommendation to the President after processing it. The President in fact is duty-bound to dispose of the recommendation. He can at best send the file back for reconsideration but if the government does not change its decision,he will have to go by their opinion, a source said.
The President,though,can sit on a mercy plea file as the Constitution does not lay down a timeframe. In spite of the Constitutional confines,sources pointed out President Mukherjee pored over each file in detail,taking up to 10 days to read them before giving his seal of approval.
Over the past few months,Mukherjee has cleared all mercy petition cases pending before him. Mumbai atttack convict Ajmal Kasab was the first to be hanged after the President rejected his mercy petition. This was followed by Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru,who was also hanged in November. Subsequent death row convicts whose mercy petitions were rejected approached the courts.