Plea junked, Bhullar to hang

SD

Delay in deciding a mercy petition cannot be enough ground to commute a convict's death sentence to life term, the Supreme Court ruled Friday as it dismissed a plea by Khalistan Liberation Force terrorist Devinderpal Singh Bhullar.

Bhullar has been on death row since his clemency petition, which was pending with the president for six years, was finally rejected in 2011.

A bench led by Justice G S Singhvi held that in cases where the magnitude of the crime and its impact on society justified imposing capital punishment, a court cannot judicially review a decision by the President or a governor only on the ground of undue delay.

It also paved the way for Bhullar's execution, discarding an argument that he could not be hanged in view of his grave mental illness.

Bhullar's Canada-based wife Navneet Kaur, who was present in the court, regretted the judgment. At first, she could not believe the court had dismissed the plea and repeatedly inquired from her lawyer and other relatives if she heard the judgment correctly.

Dejected, Kaur subsequently pointed out that Bhullar has been suffering from mental illness too and it appeared the court did not consider everything.

The verdict, which clarified that delay in disposal of a clemency plea under Article 72 will not justify a review of the President's decision in all cases, will have a direct bearing on the fate of several other convicts seeking mercy on the ground that their execution has been delayed.

There are at least 16 other such prisoners, including convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and sandalwood smuggler Veerappan's aides.

The bench said that a court's power of judicial review in such cases was "very limited" and that it could interfere only if the decision was taken without application of mind to the relevant factors or it is founded on extraneous or irrelevant considerations or when it is vitiated due to malafides or patent arbitrariness.

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