R Sedhuraman, Legal Correspondent
New Delhi, October 19. The Home Ministry has rejected the contention of Devender Pal Singh Bhullar, sentenced to death for the 1993 bomb attack on the then Youth Congress president MS Bitta, that he was entitled to have his death penalty commuted to life term in view of the delay over his mercy petition.
In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, Joint Secretary JL Chugh cited more than a dozen reasons in a bid to repudiate Bhullar’s arguments.
“Mercy cannot be claimed as a matter of right. In death sentence cases, the prisoner cannot be executed before the disposal/rejection of the mercy petition and this period of time cannot be claimed as double sentence i.e. death plus imprisonment,” the affidavit said in response to the main contention of the death row convict.
The legal as well as constitutional processes “are time consuming”, and any delay arising from this “is not a mitigating circumstance for commutation of death sentence and also does not reduce the gravity of the crime,” it said.
The ministry also contended that the “discretionary powers” enjoyed by the President under Article 72 of the Constitution for granting mercy or rejecting such pleas “are special powers overriding all other laws, rules and regulations in force.”
The presidential decisions in such cases “cannot be altered, modified or interfered with any manner whatsoever by any statutory provision or authority.” Also, no time frame could be set for the President in this regard.
The Home Ministry further contended that “delay by itself does not entail the person under sentence of death to demand for quashing the sentence and converting it to life imprisonment.”
“The inordinate delay may be a significant factor, but that by itself cannot render the execution unconstitutional,” it was contended.
The SC could, however, consider the delay and decide whether the execution of sentence should be carried out or altered into imprisonment for life, it said.
The ministry described as a “specious argument” Bhullar’s contention that the delay “is an act of cruelty” as it had added to his suffering.
“It is the pendency of the mercy petition that has given the petitioner the right to live, albeit in prison. Besides, even if the mercy petition were to be allowed, the prisoner would not become free. He would remain in prison for the rest of his natural life, unless a specific order is passed under Section 433 of CrPC.”
Further, “no fixed period of delay can be held to make the sentence death non-executable,” it said.
Bhullar was convicted for a terror act which resulted in the killing of nine persons, besides leaving 29 injured. Considering all this, Bhullar’s plea “is devoid of merit” and hence should be dismissed, the government said.
No inordinate delay as constitutional process takes time
Delay does not amount to double sentence, cruelty
Also does not reduce gravity of crime or render execution unconstitutional
Mercy is not a matter of right, doesn’t ensure release
No one can alter President’s rejection of mercy plea
Death row convicts can’t claim fundamental rights
No time-frame can be set for President
Pendency prolonged his life