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SC commutes Bhullar’s death sentence to life imprisonment

In a big relief to Devinderpal Singh Bhullar, the Supreme Court on Monday commuted the death sentence of the 1993 terror convict to life imprisonment on the grounds of inordinate delay in deciding his mercy petition and that he suffered from Schizophrenia.

The apex court bench of Chief Justice P Sathasivam, Justice RM Lodha, Justice HL Dattu and Justice SJ Mukhopadhaya, while commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment, referred to the apex court’s January 21, 2014 verdict, which said that inordinate, unexplained or unreasonable delay in deciding mercy petition was dehumanizing to death row convict and was a ground for commuting death sentence to life imprisonment.

Bhullar was convicted and awarded death penalty for triggering a bomb blast in New Delhi in September 1993, which killed nine persons and injured 25 others, including then Youth Congress president MS Bitta.

The court also noted the statement of Attorney General GE Vahanvati that there was delay in deciding the mercy petition of Bhullar and in view of the January 21, 2014, judgement, the April 12, 2013, judgement no longer holds ground. Having admitted to delay, the centre had left the decision to the court.

The court also took note of the February 05, 2014, report of the Delhi-based Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences which said that Bhullar suffered from Schizophrenia, a mental condition.

The court had on January 31, 2014, asked the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences to examine Bhullar and submit its report.

Bhullar had filed a mercy petition before the President on January 14, 2003.

The President, after a lapse of over eight years, dismissed his mercy plea on May 14, 2011. Citing the delay, he had again moved the apex court for commutation of the death sentence but his plea was rejected.

By its April 12, 2013, judgement, the court while rejecting Bhullar’s plea, held that the delay in the rejection of a mercy petition of a death row convict by the president was not open to judicial review if the conviction was for a crime that involved the loss of a large number of innocent lives.

The court, while upsetting that judgement, had said: “We are of the view that unexplained delay is one of the grounds for commutation of sentence of death into life imprisonment…The only aspect the courts have to satisfy is that the delay must be unreasonable and unexplained or inordinate at the hands of the executive.”

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