IANS

The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the Centre for delay in deciding the mercy petition filed on behalf of Balwant Singh Rajoana, sentenced to death in the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh.

A bench headed by Chief Justice U.U. Lalit said it was not inclined to entertain the request of the Centre's counsel to grant adjournment in the matter. The bench, also comprising Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and J.B. Pardiwala, told the Centre's counsel that four months have lapsed since its May order, as it questioned the delay in taking a decision on Rajoana's mercy plea.

The top court asked a responsible officer from the department concerned to file an affidavit on the status of the matter by Thursday and scheduled the matter for further hearing on Friday.

On May 2, the Supreme Court gave two months to the Centre to decide on Rajoana's mercy plea. It said the decision by the Centre should be taken as early as possible, "preferably within two months from today".

Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj, representing the Centre, submitted that the mercy petition cannot be considered as it has been filed by another organisation and not by the convict. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has also argued that the mercy petition cannot be decided until the appeals filed by other convicts in the case before the apex court are not disposed of. Also, Rajoana has not challenged his conviction or sentence, either before the high court or the Supreme Court.

The bench had noted the fact that another organisation has filed the mercy petition is not an obstruction to the consideration of the matter. The bench told Centre's counsel that it had decided in September 2019 to commute the death penalty of Rajoana to a life sentence on the special occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev. It further added that more than two years have passed but a decision has not been taken in the matter.

Nataraj did not agree that in 2019, a final decision was taken to commute Rajoana's death sentence. He added that it was decided that the proposal for commutation of death sentence, has to be processed under Article 72.

Nataraj had submitted that Rajoana had given a statement to the trial court that he had no faith in the judiciary and the Constitution. Justice Lalit observed, "They are all citizens of this country...need to deal with compassion..."

The bench pointed out that the Centre's communication had directed the state to grant remission to other convicts. Nataraj replied that states have their independent power under Article 161. The bench noted, "Show us the orders which show states have decided independently of this communication...either this communication was made without rational application or it was an empty exercise."

In the previous hearings, the top court had expressed displeasure over the government not taking any clear stand despite being given time by the court to do so. The Supreme Court had questioned the Centre over delay in sending proposal to the President for commuting Rajoana's death penalty.

The top court was hearing a plea -- filed two years ago -- seeking implementation of a decision taken by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in September 2019 to commute Rajoana's death sentence to life.

Rajoana has been in jail for 25 years awaiting his execution. In 2007, he was sentenced to death by a special court. His mercy petition has been hanging fire for more than eight years. The plea contended that inordinate delay has caused agony and adversely affected his mental and physical health. The plea also cited Devender Pal Singh Bhullar's case and claimed that delay caused by circumstances beyond the prisoners' control mandates commutation of death sentence.

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