Beant Singh assassination case: Supreme Court refuses to commute Balwant Singh Rajoana's death penalty : The Tribune India

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Beant Singh assassination case: Supreme Court refuses to commute Balwant Singh Rajoana's death penalty

'It’s within the domain of the Executive to take a call on such sensitive issues,' says a three-judge Bench led by Justice BR Gavai

Beant Singh assassination case: Supreme Court refuses to commute Balwant Singh Rajoana's death penalty

Balwant Singh Rajoana. File photo



Tribune News Service

Satya Prakash

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 3

The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to commute the death sentence of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh assassination case convict Balwant Singh Rajoana to life imprisonment and asked the Centre to take a further decision on his mercy plea as and when it deemed necessary.

“The stand of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to defer the decision on the mercy petition of the petitioner is also a decision for the reasons given thereunder. It actually amounts to a decision declining to grant the same for the present,” a three-judge Bench of Justice BR Gavai, Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Sanjay Karol said.

“It is, however, directed that the competent authority, in due course of time, would again as and when it is deemed necessary, may deal with the mercy petition, and take a further decision,” said the Bench which had on March 2 reserved its verdict on Rajoana’s petition seeking commutation of his death penalty on the ground that the Centre has failed to take a decision on his March 25, 2012 mercy petition till date.

Convicted of assassinating Beant Singh in 1995, Rajoana has been in jail for more than 27 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.  Rajoana was sentenced to death in 2007 by a special court. His mercy petition has been hanging fire for more than 11 years.

 “We also find that the Ministry of Home Affairs, upon material consideration of various reports from its different branches, has come to the conclusion that the consideration may be deferred as it could have an impact of compromising the security of the nation or creating law and order situation.

“It would not be within the domain of this Court to delve upon the decision of the competent authority to defer taking any decision at present. It is within the domain of the executive to take a call on such sensitive issues. As such this Court does not deem it appropriate to issue any further directions,” Justice Nath wrote in the judgement.

On behalf of Rajoana, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi had argued that keeping the petitioner on death row while sitting over his mercy plea for such a long time violated his fundamental rights. Citing Devender Pal Singh Bhullar’s case, the petitioner had claimed that the “Delay caused by circumstances beyond the prisoners’ control mandates commutation of death sentence” as the inordinate delay caused agony and adversely affected his physical and mental health.

Rohtagi had relied upon the MHA letter dated September 27, 2019 to the Punjab Chief Secretary communicating that 8 Sikh persons be given special remission under Article 161 of the Constitution and released from prison and a further proposal for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment of the petitioner was to be processed under Article 72 of the Constitution.

While the eight prisoners were granted remission, the only prisoner whose commutation of death sentence was to be processed under Article 72 of the Constitution was Rajaona, Rohatgi had submitted.

On behalf of the MHA, Additional Solicitor General KM Natraj had contended that Rajaona’s mercy petition can’t be considered as it was filed by SGPC and not by Rajoana himself and that it can’t be decided until the appeals of other convicts were decided by the top court.

Natraj told the Bench that considering the prevailing situation, a decision has been taken by the MHA that it would be appropriate to defer any decision on the mercy petition as it could potentially compromise national security and create a law and order situation.

Having expressed in specific terms that he has no faith in the judiciary and that he did not regret at all being part of the crime and further having used contemptuous terms before the High Court which have been duly recorded, Rajoana did not deserve any mercy in view of his conduct, Natraj submitted.

Refusing to commute Rajoana’s death sentence, the top court said, “From the above facts and circumstances, it is also evident that the argument regarding pendency of the Mercy Petition and there being a delay of more than 10 years cannot be sustained. Firstly, the petitioner himself never submitted any Mercy Petition. The alleged Mercy Petition of 2012 was filed by SGPC.

“Further, after the communication of the Ministry of Home Affairs dated 27.09.2019, the proposal for considering the commutation of the death sentence of the petitioner was started and a decision was taken to keep the same pending till disposal of the pending appeals before this Court, filed by the co-accused as well as by CBI, as according to the competent authority, it would have a bearing and it could be relevant for taking final decision on the said proposal of commutation,” it said.

“Further, it was after the directions issued by this Court on 04.12.2020 and 02.05.2022 that the matter was again considered by the competent authority and it was decided to defer the question of commutation in view of the reasons given in the affidavit filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Thus, it cannot be alleged that there has been an inordinate delay in disposal of the Mercy Petition,” the Bench noted.

It said the three decisions relied upon by the petitioner in support of his claim regarding inordinate delay in disposal of his mercy petition and resultantly commutation in such cases having been granted by this court, did not help him in view of the facts and situation being different in those three cases and in the present case.

 

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