The Supreme Court Monday hearing a PIL agreed to look into whether powers exercised by the President in commuting death sentence to life term can be reviewed by court and guidelines set for exercise of such powers.
A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice P Sathasivam issued notice to the government seeking its response to a PIL that questions the discretion exercised by the President and Governors without objectively verifiable parameters.
The PIL by journalist Pinki Virani requested the court to lay down strict guidelines for pardoning powers and cited instances where former President Pratibha Patil commuted to life term capital punishment for five convicts in four cases in which victims were children. Three cases were of brutal rape and murder and one was of murder.
Appearing for Virani,senior advocate Shekhar Naphade termed it shocking and sought restoration of death penalty for the five convicts.
The petition contended that grant of pardon on ad hoc basis and without any objectively verifiable parameters constituted abuse of power and violation of rights of victims and their near and dear ones.
Admitting the PIL essentially means a relook at the apex court verdict in the Kehar Singh case of 2006,which laid down parameters of judicial review related to exercise of constitutional powers by the President and the Governors in granting mercy to death row convicts. The verdict set parameters to make such judgement amenable to judicial review. It required to be demonstrated that the order has been passed without application of mind,was malafide or was made on extraneous or wholly irrelevant considerations. Review was applicable where relevant materials had been kept out of consideration and where the order suffered from arbitrariness.
On Monday,the bench,also comprising Justices Ranjana P Desai and Ranjan Gogoi,repeatedly referred to the Kehar Singh judgement. The Constitution bench judgement has laid down parameters of judicial review. It said the President had the power to sit over judgements by the Supreme Court after the court upholds death sentence, observed the bench.
It decided to look into the matter after Viranis counsel asserted that casualness and arbitrariness needed to be curbed since it related to fundamental rights of citizens.
The petition cites Four cases
Molai,a guard at Central Jail,and Santosh,a prisoner,had raped assistant jailors 16-year-old daughter. They killed her and dumped her body in the jails septic tank. Death sentence confirmed by the SC in 1999. In 2011,Pratibha Patil commuted death sentence.
Satish raped a six-year-old girl who was on her way to school. Patil granted Satish mercy in 2012.
Bantu took a five-year-old girl from a religious ceremony to a field and raped her. He tortured her in the most barbaric manner and the child died of profuse bleeding. SC upheld death for him in 2008 but in 2012,Patil commuted his sentence.
Sushil Murmu chopped off the head of a nine-year-old girl as a religious sacrifice. He dumped the severed head in a gunny bag and threw it in a pond. SC awarded death in 2003. His death sentence was commuted by the President in 2012.