SC gives Centre 14 days to decide on Rajoana's mercy plea

Court tells the Centre that it is giving them the last chance to decide on commuting Rajaona's death penalty

SC gives Centre 14 days to decide on Rajoana's mercy plea

Balwant Singh Rajoana, convict in Beant Singh assassination case

Satya Prakash

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 25

The Supreme Court on Monday gave a last chance to the Centre to take a call on the mercy plea filed by Balwant S Rajoana for commuting the death penalty awarded to him in former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh''s assassination case.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde -- which had earlier asked the government to decide Rajoana's mercy petition before the Republic Day -- gave two more weeks after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the government was examining the issue.

The Solicitor General said it would not be prudent to decide the matter at this juncture as it could have some repercussions in the present situation.

As Mehta sought three weeks, the CJI shot back, "Why three weeks? What is happening Mr. Mehta?...Three-week is unreasonable. We asked you to decide before January 26."

The Solicitor General said, "The decision going either way will have some repercussions in the present circumstances."

The Bench agreed to grant two weeks as a last chance for the government to decide the matter.

On behalf of the petitioner, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi for petitioner opposed Mehta's request, saying, "The man (Rajoana) is in jail for 25 years. His mercy plea has been pending for over eight years."

"He is in jail for killing a chief minister," replied Mehta.

Convicted of assassinating Beant Singh in 1995, Rajoana has been in jail for 25 years awaiting his execution. The former Punjab Chief Minister and 16 others were killed in an explosion outside the Civil Secretariat in Chandigarh in 1995.

Rajaona was sentenced to death in 2007 by a special court. His mercy petition under Article 72 of the Constitution is hanging fire for eight years.

The Supreme Court had on January 8 asked the Centre to decide by January 26 Rajoana's plea for commuting the death penalty awarded to him in former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh''s assassination case.

It had said the decision had to be taken before the Republic Day which was a "good date".

"We will give two-three weeks. You should complete the process before January 26. January 26 is a good day.  It will be appropriate if you take a decision before that," the CJI had said.

Maintaining that Pendency of appeals by co-accused has no bearing on Presidential pardon granted to a death-row convict, the Supreme Court had on December 4 questioned the Centre over delay in sending proposal to the President for commuting Rajoana’s death penalty.

Once the Centre has decided to recommend Presidential pardon for a death row convict, the pendency of appeals of his co-accused can’t be a reason to delay the clemency proceedings, it had said.

"Appeal of other co-accused has no relevance to the decision to commute the death sentence of some convicts taken to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev," it had noted.

The court’s comments had come after the Centre said the proposal to commute death sentence was not sent to the President as appeal of other co-accused was pending and the convict himself hadn't filed an appeal.

Citing Devender Pal Singh Bhullar’s case, the petitioner has claimed that the "Delay caused by circumstances beyond the prisoners’ control mandates commutation of death sentence.” The inordinate delay caused agony and adversely affected his physical and mental health, Rajaona contended.

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