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Gallows await Dhananjoy as SC rejects plea
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, August 12
The last-ditch efforts by Kolkata’s condemned prisoner Dhananjoy Chatterjee to escape the gallows for the rape and murder of a teenaged schoolgirl 14 year ago, was dashed today with the Supreme Court refusing to interfere with the Presidential order dismissing his mercy petition.

A five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti said his plea for commutation of death penalty and the stay of the execution was “devoid of merits” and the court’s power of judicial review of the Presidential order in such cases was “very very limited.”

Dismission a petition by his brother Bikas Chatterjee seeking review of the President’s order of August 4, rejecting the mercy petition of the convict, scheduled to be hanged on August 14, the Bench accepted the plea of West Bengal counsel that “the death is the only deterrent to such deforment minds”.

“President’s power under Article 72 and that of the Governor under Article 161 of the Constitution to deal with the clemency petitions is widest and the scope for their judicial review is very very limited, and therefore, it does not call for any interference,” said the Bench comprising Ms Justice Ruma Pal, Mr Justice Arun Kumar, Mr Justice G.P. Mathur and Mr Justice C.K. Thakkar.

Dhananjoy was awarded death sentence for the brutal rape and murder of 14-year-old Hetal Parekh at a Kolkata housing society on March 5, 1990, which was upheld by the apex court in January 1994. He could not be executed as he had launched a series of litigations in the high court and the apex court, apart from filing of two successive mercy petitions before the President between February 17 and August 3, 1994 and two before the West Bengal Governor.

The fact of his wife filing a mercy petition before the President in June 1994 after his plea was rejected by the President, was revealed to the apex court only today.

The death penalty to him had raised a nationwide debate whether the death sentence should continue or not, with various civil rights organisations demanding the abolition of the capital punishment.

The court rejected the argument of the petitioner’s counsel that the President’s order was “arbitrary and passed without application of mind” in the absence of all relevant records of the case having not been made available to him. It said when such a matter “are placed before the highest constitutional authority it is presumed that he has considered every aspects of the case.”

Since his latest mercy petition remained before the President for more than six weeks, “we have no reasons to believe that he has not applied his mind to all aspects of the case,” the Bench ruled.

It further said a Constitution Bench of the apex court had laid down the parameters for judicial review of Presidential and Governor’s orders regarding mercy plea in Maru Ram’s case in 1981 when it was passed without the advice of the government, they had transgressed their powers, not applied their mind, passed the order with extraneous consideration and the rejection order was mala fide.

“No case is made out by the petitioner for making a departure from the parameters laid down by the earlier Constitution Bench in its order,” the Court said.

The court also did not agree with the contention of the petitioner’s counsel that the delay in implementing the execution order during the past over eight years between the rejection of Dhananjoy’s appeal by the apex court in January 1994 and February 2003 when he moved the apex court against the West Bengal Governor’s order, was due to the state authorities, saying that it had to bear in mind that the convict had lauched a serious of litigations in the high court and the apex court during this period.

It also rejected his plea that the apex court guidelines regarding the award of capital punishment in the “rarest of the rare” cases as laid down in the Bachchan Singh’s case judgement in 1980 had not been considered. The Bench pointed out that while upholding his death sentence, the apex court had considered all these aspects in details.
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