EXPLAINING its reasons for commuting the death sentence of Assam murder convict Mahendra Nath Das to life term,the Supreme Court has pointed out that then president A P J Abdul Kalam had recommended clemency in September 2005,but his successor,Pratibha Patil,was kept in the dark about this.
Since the home ministry did not agree with Kalam,it sent the recommendation for rejecting Dass mercy petition to then president Pratibha Patil in 2010,along with a note from then home minister P Chidambaram. But the ministry did not append Kalams views.
Holding this lacuna to be incurable,the Supreme Court has said the rejection of Dass mercy plea by Patil in May 2011 was rendered illegal since the decision was vitiated by the lack of adequate advice by the ministry concerned.
The bench led by Justice G S Singhvi noted that the Centre had failed to bring on record any material to prove that it had placed the file before Kalam for a review of his order,or that Patil was asked to reconsider the decision of her predecessor.
Therefore,it must be held that the president was not properly advised and assisted in the disposal of the petition filed by the appellant, said the bench,adding that Patil was kept in the dark about the view expressed by her predecessor and was deprived of an opportunity to objectively consider the entire matter.
It said it was most intriguing that although the Home ministrys initial note made a reference to Kalams opinion,the final recommendation sent to Patil did not mention it.
The court further noted that the government had also failed to explain the time lag of three years,between 2001 when then Home minister L K Advani recommended rejection of the mercy petition and 2004 when the file actually reached Rashtrapati Bhawan.
It also took note of the inordinate delay of five years after Kalam favoured clemency in 2005,and the Home ministry sent back the file to Rashtrapati Bhawan in 2010.
The bench,which had last month dismissed a plea by Khalistan Liberation Force terrorist Devinderpal Singh Bhullar over delay in deciding his mercy petition,said it was convinced that in this case,delay in deciding the mercy plea warranted the reprieve.
The rejection of the appellants mercy petition is declared illegal and quashed and the sentence of death awarded to him by the trial court,which has been confirmed by the high court and this court,is commuted into life imprisonment, held the bench.
The court also held that the Gauhati high court had committed serious errors by dismissing the writ petition solely on the ground that Das was found guilty of committing a heinous crime.
We are convinced that 12 years delay in the disposal of the appellants mercy petition was sufficient for commutation of the sentence of death, said the bench.
Das,who is currently lodged in Jorhat central jail,was sentenced to death by a sessions court in 1997 for killing a man in April 1996. His conviction and sentence was subsequently upheld by the Gauhati High Court in 1998 and the Supreme Court in 1999. In 1999,he sent his mercy plea to Rashtrapati Bhawan,which finally rejected it in 2011.
Das had approached the apex court for commutation of his death sentence on the ground that Rashtrapati Bhawan had taken so many years to decide on his mercy plea.