Friday, February 10, 2012

Death penalty: Supreme Court notice to govt on crucial special leave petition

Manoj Mitta, TNN Feb 8, 2012, 06.02AM IST

NEW DELHI: The death penalty has been challenged in all the three cases citing the same reason: the inordinate delay on the part of the President in rejecting the mercy petitions of the convicts concerned. But different benches of the Supreme Court are treating this vital issue in conflicting ways on the decisions made by the President last year on the home ministry's advice.

As for the special leave petition (SLP) filed by Mahendra Nath Das of Assam, the bench comprising Justice A K Patnaik and Justice Swatanter Kumar issued notices on Tuesday to the Centre and state while declining to stay his execution. If his SLP is rejected in the final hearing fixed for Thursday, Das may become the first convict to be hanged in India since Dhananjay Chatterjee's execution in 2004.

The line of action adopted by the Pattanaik bench in Das's case is a far cry from the one adopted three months ago by the bench comprising Justice G S Singhvi and Justice S J Mukhopadhaya in high-profile and politically sensitive cases relating to the Rajiv Gandhi assassins and Devendar Pal Singh Bhullar. The Singhvi bench, having stayed the execution of capital punishment in both cases, is due to hold elaborate proceedings from February 22 on whether the President's rejection of the mercy petition could be overruled by the SC on the ground of "unexplained delay" lasting over a decade to take a final call.

Given the importance of the matter from the viewpoint of human rights, the Singhvi bench had appointed two senior constitutional experts, Ram Jethmalani and T R Andhyarujina, to assist it as amicus curiae.

Since his mercy petition had been stuck with the President for 12 years, the SC's registry should have logically placed Das's SLP before the Singhvi bench. At the final hearing due on Thursday, it remains to be seen whether the Pattnaik bench, redressing the anomaly that has arisen out of the registry's oversight, will refer Das's SLP to the Singhvi bench in the interest of consistency.

The SC's pronouncement on if delay in the disposal of mercy petition can have the effect of commuting death penalty to life sentence may affect pending mercy petitions, including Afzal Guru's.

accessed on 10th February 2012

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