The central government will challenge the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in which it said that inexplicable, inordinate delays in deciding mercy pleas of death row convicts can be sufficient grounds for commutation of death sentence to life.
Reports on Wednesday said that the Centre will soon file a review petition in the apex court, asking it to review its recent ruling in which it called for speedier disposal of mercy pleas.
The apex court had passed its order in response to a petition filed by 15 death row convicts – including four of Veerapppan aides – in which they had sought commutation of their death sentences as the government had not taken a decision on their mercy plea for years.
“….Mercy petitions were disposed of more expeditiously in former days than in the present times. Mostly, until 1980, the mercy petitions were decided in minimum of 15 days and in maximum of 10-11 months. Thereafter, from 1980 to 1988, the time taken in disposal of mercy petitions was gradually increased to an average of four years,” a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam said.
“Since the average time taken for deciding the mercy petitions during this period was brought down to an average of 5 months from 4 years thereby paying due regard to the observations made in the decisions of this court, but unfortunately, now the history seems to be repeating itself as now the delay of maximum 12 years is seen in disposing of the mercy petitions,” the court said.
Veerappan aides Meesekar Madaiah, Gnanaprakash, Simon and Bilavendran, who are lodged in a Karnataka jail since 2004 and Haryana couple Sonia and Sanjiv, sentenced to death for killing 13 of their relatives, were among the petitioners.
The court also said that the government cannot keep mercy pleas pending for years. The court said that if there is a procedural lapse in deciding on the mercy plea of a death row convict then it can be a ground for commuting death sentence to life.
Importantly, the apex court ruling is likely to impact the mercy pleas of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins Murugan, Arivu and Santhan, which are pending before the top court.
The apex court also laid down important guidelines on dealing with death row convicts and their mercy pleas.
The court directed that death row convicts should not be placed under solitary confinement. Also, such convicts must be provided all legal aid if he/she wishes to submit a mercy plea.
The court also mandated respective state governments to place necessary material before the Governor while sending the mercy plea.
Once the mercy plea is rejected, it should be conveyed in writing to the convict, the court said.
“Although, no time frame can be set for the President for disposal of the mercy petition but we can certainly request the concerned Ministry to follow its own rules rigorously which can reduce, to a large extent, the delay caused,” the bench added.
Noted jurist Soli Sorabjee welcomed the SC verdict. He termed it “correct and humane.”