By John Doe
The fate of those “to-be-hanged” is “hanging” at Rashtrapathi Bhavan
Though President A P J Kalam’s tenure is coming to an end in July, the fate of about 20 mercy petitions, filed by persons facing death penalty, is still “hanging” in Rashtrapathi Bhavan.
All these persons, declared by courts as “persons unfit to live on the earth for their heinous crimes” are looking up to Rashtrapathi Bhavan since many years from their prisons to hear a final word about their fate.
Yes, Mr Kalam might be right in not taking a decision in haste to decide on their fate but unknowingly the President (including his predecessor K R Narayanan, who had left the fate of some petitions at the hands of his successor-Mr Kalam) “punishing” them in delaying the decision.
Perhaps there is nothing to regret about this “unknown punishment” being imposed by the Presidents on the convicts but what about their family members, who have not committed any crime.
Parents, spouses, children and other relatives of persons facing capital punishment are also undergoing “punishment” everyday with the uncertainty over the mercy pleas.
The infamous Afzal Guru (involved in attack on Parliament) case, persons involved in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, forest poacher Veerappan’s associates, are among the cases hanging in Rashtrapathi Bhavan.
It was reported in newspapers that President Kalam, as a head of the judiciary, himself had expressed his concern over the delay in disposal of cases and pending number cases in various courts in the country. This being the situation, nothing prevented Mr Kalam to direct the Union government to send its opinion on mercy pleas, if the latter has not yet acted in this regard.
However, the undue delay caused by either Mr Kalam as President or by the Union government in giving their decision on mercy pleas (though there is no time limit fixed for taking a decision on mercy pleas) has certainly made out a case for amending the statute to fix a time limit for the President, the State and Union governments, who have to forward their opinion to the President on mercy pleas.
Though the successive Union governments have intentionally delaying in sending their views to the President(s) on mercy pleas for political reasons but the blame has to be borne by the President(s) alone as the statute has given the President the “ultimate” right.
What could be the legal remedy?
A President, who receives a mercy plea, should be compelled to decide on whether to accept the plea or not before completion of his tenure provided that the President has a minimum of one year in office.
Three months from the date of receipt of mercy petition from President should be the time limit for the State governments to review their decision on death penalty. (The State governments have a chance to review their plea for death penalty urged at the time of prosecution.)
The Union government should forward its views within three months from the date of receipt of views from the respective State governments from where the convict hails.
Whether the President should have the power to review the death penalty above the Supreme Court is another question that can be debated. For the time being let us hope that Mr Kalam does not demit the office leaving behind the mercy petitions for his successor’s mercy!
Think about it
Supreme Court clips President’s powers to pardon@
The Churumuri poll on pardon for Afzal Guru @