R Sedhuraman, Legal Correspondent
New Delhi, April 19. The Supreme Court today reserved its judgment on Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar’s plea for commuting to life imprisonment the death penalty awarded to him for the September 10, 1993, bomb attack on the then Youth Congress president MS Bitta.
A Bench comprising Justices GS Singhvi and SJ Mukhopadhaya passed an order to the effect at the conclusion of pleadings that Bhullar be spared from the gallows as he had virtually undergone life sentence due to the long delay in the rejection of his mercy plea. The Centre, however, opposed the plea.
During the arguments today, the Bench asked the Central Government to have a timeframe for deciding mercy petitions.
Additional Solicitor-General Haren Raval sought three months’ time for getting the government’s response to the suggestion.
The impact of death sentences was getting lost due to the long delays in dealing with the mercy petitions, the Bench pointed out. Further, people’s faith in the government’s ability to maintain law and order depended on such matters, the court reasoned.
“It is troubling us that some cases have political overtones,” the Bench said. The court said it wanted to know whether the mercy pleas of those with political connections were being treated differently.
In this connection, the Bench sought details of the mercy petitions filed by convicts who did not have any support from outside quarters.
Raval said in the case of Nalini, sentenced to death in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, as many as 8,000 mercy petitions had been received. Ultimately, she was granted pardon.
Bhullar, his wife Navneet Kaur and the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Managing Committee (DSGMC) had approached the SC seeking commutation of the death sentence on several grounds, including Bhullar’s mental ailment. The 1993 bomb attack in Delhi had killed nine security personnel and 25 persons, including Bitta, were injured. Bhullar is lodged at the Tihar Jail here.
About 26 mercy petitions are pending before the President, some of them since 1992.