The journey of a mercy plea

Of the 28 mercy petitions pending with the Central Government, 21 cases are pending with the President's Secretariat while seven are with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Article 72 of the Constitution empowers the President to grant pardon, suspend and remit death sentences and commute the death sentence of convicts on death row. Maneesh Chhibber explains how the entire mercy procedure works.

Who can file a mercy petition on behalf of a convict on death row?

Anybody, including foreign nationals, can send a mercy petition with regard to such a person to the President's Office or the MHA. Mercy pleas can also be sent to the Governors, who forward them to the MHA for necessary action. A convict can file a mercy plea from jail either through prison officials or through his lawyer or even his family. Mercy petitions can also be emailed to the Home Ministry or the President's Secretariat.

Is there a time-frame within which the President has to dispose of a mercy petition?

No. The Constitution doesn't have any maximum time-limit within which a mercy petition has to be decided. There have been instances of mercy petitions lying with the President for over a decade without any decision being taken. The MHA can't ask the President to speed up the process.

Why is there such a long list of pending mercy petitions?

The reason for the pile-up is that successive Presidents have dithered in deciding pending mercy petitions. Most of the pending cases —- 28 in number as of today —- in the Rashtrapati Bhawan were left undecided by the current President Pratibha Patil's predecessor, A P J Abdul Kalam. During his five-year stay in the Rashtrapati Bhawan, Kalam decided only one mercy plea —rejecting the plea of rapist Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was thereafter hanged. Similarly, Kalam's predecessor K R Narayanan also didn't clear any mercy petition. The only President in recent times who diligently performed this Constitutional duty was Shankar Dayal Sharma.

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