The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the government to hand over the original files of all 18 mercy petitions,including that of Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru,pending before the President to investigate if there has been any inordinate delay by the executive in processing the clemency pleas.
The direction strikes a marked departure from the apex courts usual balancing act between merely expressing empathy for the condemned man while signing off saying it was unable to lay down any hard and fast rules on the executive to prevent inordinate delays in processing mercy petitions.
A Bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya sought these files while hearing Devender Pal Singh Bhullar,a death row convict,who wants the court to commute his death penalty to life imprisonment because of the years he spent in solitary confinement waiting for the government to take a final decision on his mercy plea.
Bhullar had sought mercy before the President on January 14,2003,but his petition was dismissed only on May 25,2011. He is currently undergoing treatment at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences at Shahdara in Delhi for hypertension,psychiatric illness and suicidal tendencies.
Justifying its decision to review the mercy process with a fine tooth comb in all 18 cases which have been pending for the past one to seven years,the court said the other death row convicts may not have had the resources to approach the SC complaining of executive delay.
In case the SC finds that there has indeed been an inordinate delay in the processing of the mercy petitions,it is likely to issue notices to both the Union of India and the death row convicts on the question of commutation of their sentences to life imprisonment.
In fact,both K T S Tulsi,Bhullars lawyer,and amicus curiae Ram Jethmalani had earlier urged the court to issue suo motu notice to the Union of India to explain the delay in disposal of the mercy petitions.
Tulsi defended the SC decision to call for the records from the President,saying it is not an encroachment into the executives domain. There is no such thing that a President is immune. The mercy plea is subject to review. There are decisions of the SC saying that if there is an inordinate delay to decide a mercy plea,then death sentence can be commuted, Tulsi said.
During the hearing,Tulsi argued that between 1997 and 2011,the President had disposed of 32 mercy petitions,13 of which were done after a 10-year wait. He further said that 14 other cases were disposed of after a delay spanning 4 to 10 years,while the remaining ones decided within a period of 1 to 4 years.