Views: Devinderpal Singh Bhullar's verdict seals fate of others

Now that the Supreme Court has dismissed Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) terrorist Devinderpal Singh Bhullar's plea for commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment on ground of delay in deciding his mercy plea, it would mean that there is now no hope for other death row convicts whose hanging had also been stayed by various courts on grounds of inexplicable delays in deciding on their mercy pleas.

For death row convicts Mahendra Nath Das of Assam and a Haryana couple -- Sonia and Sanjiv, who were sentenced to death for having killed members of Sonia's family for property, today's judgment by the Bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya could translate into their petitions also being dealt with similarly.

Since Bhullar's execution was stayed, the apex court had stayed execution of 17 other condemned prisoners even though the President had rejected their mercy pleas. All these convicts as well as the anti-death penalty activists were keenly awaiting the outcome of Bhullar's petition.

Among other things, Bhullar and other convicts had challenged the rejection of their mercy petitions on grounds of huge delay in disposing of their mercy petitions in Bhullar' case the President took 11 years to reject his mercy plea, as well as the arbitrary, discriminatory and secretive manner in which the decision to either reject or accept the mercy petition was arrived at. Under

Article 72 of the Constitution, the President has power to grant pardon, etc, and to suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases. But, the entire process is shrouded in mystery.

While only a complete perusal of the Supreme Court judgment will show if the Bench has laid down some guidelines for the government to follow while deciding mercy petitions as sought by Bhullar' lawyer K T S Tulsi, it would not be illogical to expect the government to do so even if the court has not said so.

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