27 January 2014In a landmark and significant judgement, the Supreme Court on Tuesday commuted death penalty of 15 convicts on the grounds of inordinate delay and mental illness. The apex court said the death penalty can be commuted when there is an inordinate and inexplicable delay in deciding the mercy plea of the convicts.
While the death penalty of 13 convicts has been commuted to life on the ground of inordinate delay on part of President to decide their mercy pleas, 2 others were given life sentence after they became mentally ill after several years on death row. Over 20 death row convicts had approached Supreme Court seeking an authoritative ruling on the matter.
The Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court commuted death sentence of 4 aides of forest brigand Veerappan to life term on ground of delay in deciding their mercy plea by the government.
The 4 Veerappan gang members, convicted for killing 22 policemen in April 1993, are Simon, Gnana Prakash, Madaiah and Bilavendra. They were sentenced to death on January 29, 2004 while their mercy plea rejected was in February 13, 2013. The apex court had extended the stay on hanging for 6 months on February 20, 2013.
The court also ruled that a death row convict must be hanged within 14 days after dismissal of his/ her mercy petition.
Ruling that death row convicts and their families must be informed after their mercy plea is rejected by the President or the Governor, the apex court said, “Once the mercy plea has been rejected, it should be communicated in writing.”
The apex court said schizophrenia, insanity and mental illness can be reasons for commuting death penalty and the convicts should be given adequate medical treatment and legal aid. The order also said that solitary confinement of a death row convict and other prisoners is unconstitutional.
The judgement may impact Devinder Singh Bhullar’s case as well. Bhullar was sentenced to death by a trial court on August 25, 2001 for plotting terror attacks on Punjab Senior Superintendent of Police Sumedh Singh Saini in 1991 and Youth Congress leader MS Bitta in 1993, in which 9 people were killed.
The other death row convicts included Suresh, Ramji, Gurmeet Singh, Praveen Kumar, Sonia and her husband Sanjeev, Sundar Singh and Jafar Ali convicted in various cases.
While Suresh, Ramji, Gurmeet Singh and Jafar Ali are lodged in prisons in Uttar Pradesh, former Haryana MLA Ralu Ram Punia’s daughter Sonia and her husband Sanjeev are jailed in Haryana. Praveen is in a Karnataka jail and Sundar Singh is an inmate of a prison in Uttaranchal.
Sonia and Sanjeev were awarded death penalty for killing eight members of her family, including her parents and 3 children of her brother in 2001.
Gurmeet Singh was convicted for killing 13 of his family members in 1986. Jafar Ali murdered his wife and 5 daughters. Suresh and Ramji killed 5 of their relatives.
The judgement may have implications in various cases, including the petitions filed by 3 death row convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case who have challenged the President’s rejection of their mercy plea less than 3 years ago.
Welcoming the order former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee said, “This is a humane and correct judgement. I am in agreement with the judgement.”
Human Rights lawyer Colin Gonsalves welcomed the judgement saying, “The order will have a positive effect on a number of cases. It gives me tremendous pleasure and a great deal of happiness to be able to save lives.”
Source: IBN Live, January 21, 2014