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SC Judgment on Bhullar’s mercy plea

REPORTABLE

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA                        CRIMINAL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION                 WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL)  D.NO. 16039 OF 2011

Devender Pal Singh Bhullar                         …Petitioner

versus

State of N.C.T. of Delhi …Respondent

WITH

WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) No. 146 OF 2011

AND

WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) No. 86 OF 2011

 

 

J U D G M E N T

G. S. SINGHVI, J.

1.    Human life is perhaps the most precious  gift  of  the  nature,  which many describe as the Almighty.  This is the reason why it is argued that  if you cannot give life, you do not have the right to take  it.   Many  believe that capital punishment should not be imposed  irrespective  of  the  nature and magnitude of the crime.  Others think that death penalty operates  as  a strong deterrent against heinous  crimes  and  there  is  nothing  wrong  in legislative prescription of the same as one of the punishments.  The  debate on this issue became more intense in the second part  of  the  20th  century and those belonging to the first school of thought succeeded  in  convincing the governments of about 140 countries to abolish death penalty.

2.    In India, death was prescribed  as  one  of  the  punishments  in  the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and the same was retained after  independence.   However, keeping in view the old adage that man should be merciful to  all living creatures, the framers of the Constitution enacted  Articles  72  and 161 under which the President or the Governor,  as  the  case  may  be,  can grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remission of  punishment  or  suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence and  as will be seen hereinafter, the President has exercised  power  under  Article 72 in large number of cases for commutation  of  death  sentence  into  life imprisonment  except  when  the  accused  was  found  guilty  of  committing gruesome and/or socially abhorrent crime.

3.    The campaign for the  abolition  of  capital  punishment  led  to  the introduction of a Bill in the Lok Sabha in 1956 but the  same  was  rejected on 23.11.1956.  After two years, a similar resolution was introduced in  the Rajya  Sabha  but,  after  considerable  debate,  the  same  was  withdrawn. Another attempt was made in this regard in 1961 but the resolution moved  in the Rajya Sabha was rejected in 1962.  Notwithstanding these reversals,  the votaries of ‘no capital punishment’ persisted with their  demand.   The  Law Commission of India examined the issue from various angles  and  recommended that death penalty should be retained in the statute book.  This is  evinced from the 35th Report of the Law Commission, the relevant portions  of  which are extracted below:

“The issue of abolition or retention has to be decided on a  balancing       of the various arguments for and against retention. No single argument       for abolition or retention can decide the issue. In  arriving  at  any       conclusion on the subject, the need for protecting society in  general       and individual human beings must be borne in mind.

It is difficult to rule out the validity of, or the  strength  behind,       many of the arguments for abolition nor  does,  the  commission  treat       lightly the argument based on the irrevocability of  the  sentence  of       death, the need  for  a  modern  approach,  the  severity  of  capital       punishment and the strong feeling shown by certain sections of  public       opinion in stressing deeper questions of human values.

Having regard, however, to the conditions in India, to the variety  of       the social upbringing of its inhabitants,  to  the  disparity  in  the       level of morality and education in the country, to the vastness of its       area, to diversity of its population and to  the  paramount  need  for       maintaining law and order in the  country  at  the  present  juncture,       India cannot risk the experiment of abolition of capital punishment.”

4.    The constitutionality  of  capital  punishment  was  examined  by  the Constitution Bench in Jagmohan Singh v. State of U.P. (1973) 1 SCC 20.   The facts of that case were that appellant Jagmohan Singh was convicted for  the murder of Chhote Singh and was sentenced to death by the trial  Court.   The High Court confirmed the death sentence.  Before  this  Court,  the  counsel for the appellant relied upon the judgment of  the  U.S.  Supreme  Court  in Furman v. State of Georgia, 408 US 238 and argued  that  death  penalty  was per  se  unconstitutional.   This  Court  distinguished  that  judgment   by observing that even though  the  sentence  of  death  was  set  aside  by  a majority of 5:4, only two of the five Judges, namely,  Mr.  Justice  Brennan and Mr. Justice Marshall  were  of  the  opinion  that  in  view  of  Eighth Amendment to the American Constitution, which  forbade  ‘cruel  and  unusual punishments’, the imposition  of  death  penalty  was  unwarranted  and  the opinion of the third Judge, namely, Mr. Justice Douglas could  not  be  read as advocating total  abolition  of  capital  punishment.   The  Constitution Bench then observed:

“So far as we are concerned in this country, we do not  have,  in  our       constitution any provision like the Eighth Amendment  nor  are  we  at       liberty to apply the test of  reasonableness  with  the  freedom  with       which the Judges of the Supreme Court of  America  are  accustomed  to       apply “the due process” clause. Indeed what is cruel and unusual  may,       in conceivable circumstances, be regarded as unreasonable. But when we       are dealing with punishments for crimes as prescribed by  law  we  are       confronted with a serious problem. Not a few are found  to  hold  that       life imprisonment, especially, as it is understood in USA is cruel. On       the other hand, capital punishment  cannot  be  described  as  unusual       because that kind of punishment has been with us  from  ancient  times       right up to the present day though the number of offences for which it       can  be  imposed  has  continuously  dwindled.  The  framers  of   our       Constitution were well aware of the existence of capital punishment as       a permissible punishment under the law. For example, Article  72(1)(c)       provides that  the  President  shall  have  power  to  grant  pardons,       reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to  suspend,  remit       or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence “in all       cases where the sentence  is  a  sentence  of  death”.  Article  72(3)       further provides that “nothing in sub-clause (c) of clause  (1)  shall       affect the power to suspend, remit or  commute  a  sentence  of  death       exercisable by the Governor of a State under  any  law  for  the  time       being in force”. The obvious reference is to Sections 401 and  402  of       the Criminal Procedure Code. Then again Entries 1 and 2 in List III of       the Seventh Schedule refer to Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure.  In       Entry No. 1  the  entry  Criminal  Law  is  extended  by  specifically       including therein “all matters included in the Indian  Penal  Code  at       the commencement of this Constitution”. All matters not only  referred       to offences but also punishments—one of which is the  death  sentence.       Article 134 gives a right of appeal to the  Supreme  Court  where  the       High Court reverses an order of acquittal and sentences  a  person  to       death. All these provisions clearly go to show that the  Constitution-       makers had recognised the death sentence as a  permissible  punishment       and had made constitutional provisions for appeal,  reprieve  and  the       like. But more important than these provisions in the Constitution  is       Article 21 which provides that no person shall be deprived of his life       except according to procedure established by law. The  implication  is       very clear. Deprivation of life  is  constitutionally  permissible  if       that is done according to procedure established by law. In the face of       these  indications  of  constitutional  postulates  it  will  be  very       difficult  to  hold  that  capital  sentence  was  regarded   per   se       unreasonable or not in the public interest.”                                                          (emphasis supplied)

 

5.    The constitutional validity  of  Section  302  IPC,  which  prescribes death as one of the punishments, was considered by  the  Constitution  Bench in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980) 2 SCC 684.  By a majority of  4:1, the Constitution Bench declared that Section 302  IPC  was  constitutionally valid.  Speaking for the majority, Sarkaria, J. referred  to  the  judgments of several countries, including India, opinions of Jurists and recorded  his conclusion in the following words:       “To sum up, the question whether  or  not  death  penalty  serves  any       penological purpose is a difficult, complex and intractable issue.  It       has evoked strong, divergent views. For the  purpose  of  testing  the       constitutionality of the impugned provision as  to  death  penalty  in       Section 302 of the Penal Code on the ground of reasonableness  in  the       light of Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, it is  not  necessary       for us to express any categorical opinion, one way or the other, as to       which of these two antithetical views, held by the  Abolitionists  and       Retentionists, is correct. It is sufficient to say that the very  fact       that persons of reason, learning and light are rationally  and  deeply       divided in their opinion on this issue, is a ground among others,  for       rejecting the petitioners argument that retention of death penalty  in       the impugned provision, is totally devoid of reason and  purpose.  If,       notwithstanding the view of the Abolitionists to the contrary, a  very       large segment of  people,  the  world  over,  including  sociologists,       legislators, jurists, judges and administrators still  firmly  believe       in the worth and necessity of capital punishment for the protection of       society, if in the  perspective  of  prevailing  crime  conditions  in       India, contemporary public opinion channelized  through  the  people’s       representatives in  Parliament,  has  repeatedly  in  the  last  three       decades, rejected all attempts, including the one  made  recently,  to       abolish or specifically restrict the area of death penalty,  if  death       penalty is still a recognised legal sanction for murder or some  types       of murder in most of the civilised countries  in  the  world,  if  the       framers of the Indian Constitution were fully  aware  —  as  we  shall       presently show they were —  of  the  existence  of  death  penalty  as       punishment for murder, under the Indian Penal Code, if the 35th Report       and subsequent reports of the Law Commission suggesting  retention  of       death penalty, and recommending revision  of  the  Criminal  Procedure       Code and the insertion of the new Sections 235(2) and 354(3)  in  that       Code providing for pre-sentence hearing and  sentencing  procedure  on       conviction for murder and  other  capital  offences  were  before  the       Parliament and presumably considered by it when in 1972-1973  it  took       up revision of the Code of  1898  and  replaced  it  by  the  Code  of       Criminal Procedure,  1973,  it  is  not  possible  to  hold  that  the       provision of death penalty as an alternative punishment for murder, in       Section 302 of the Penal Code is unreasonable and not  in  the  public       interest. We would, therefore, conclude that the impugned provision in       Section 302, violates neither the letter nor the ethos of Article 19.”

 

While dealing with the argument that Section 302 violates Article 21 of  the Constitution, Sarkaria, J. referred to the  judgment  in  Maneka  Gandhi  v. Union of India (1978) 1 SCC 248 and observed:       “Thus expanded  and  read  for  interpretative  purposes,  Article  21       clearly  brings  out  the  implication,  that  the  founding   fathers       recognised the right of the State to deprive a person of his  life  or       personal  liberty  in  accordance  with  fair,  just  and   reasonable       procedure  established  by  valid  law.  There   are   several   other       indications,  also,  in  the  Constitution   which   show   that   the       Constitution-makers were fully cognizant of  the  existence  of  death       penalty for murder and certain other  offences  in  the  Indian  Penal       Code. Entries 1 and 2 in List III — Concurrent List — of  the  Seventh       Schedule, specifically refer to the Indian Penal Code and the Code  of       Criminal  Procedure  as  in  force  at   the   commencement   of   the       Constitution. Article 72(1)(c) specifically invests the President with       power to  suspend,  remit  or  commute  the  sentence  of  any  person       convicted of any offence, and also “in all cases where the sentence is       a sentence of death”. Likewise, under Article 161, the Governor  of  a       State has been given power to suspend, remit or commute,  inter  alia,       the sentence of death of any  person  convicted  of  murder  or  other       capital offence relating to a matter to which the executive  power  of       the State extends. Article 134, in terms, gives a right of  appeal  to       the Supreme Court to a person who, on appeal, is sentenced to death by       the High Court, after reversal of his acquittal by  the  trial  court.       Under the successive Criminal Procedure Codes which have been in force       for about 100 years, a sentence of death  is  to  be  carried  out  by       hanging. In view of the aforesaid  constitutional  postulates,  by  no       stretch of imagination can it be said that death penalty under Section       302 of the Penal Code, either per se or because of  its  execution  by       hanging, constitutes an unreasonable, cruel or unusual punishment.  By       reason of the same constitutional postulates, it cannot be  said  that       the framers of the Constitution considered death sentence  for  murder       or the prescribed traditional mode of its  execution  as  a  degrading       punishment which would defile “the dignity of the  individual”  within       the contemplation of the preamble to the Constitution.  On  parity  of       reasoning, it cannot be said that death penalty  for  the  offence  of       murder violates the basic structure of the Constitution.”                                                          (emphasis supplied)

 

Sarkaria, J. then considered the question whether the Court should lay  down standards or norms for sentencing and answered the same in the  negative  by giving the following reasons:       “Firstly, there is little agreement among penologists and  jurists  as       to what information about the crime and criminal is relevant and  what       is not relevant for  fixing  the  dose  of  punishment  for  a  person       convicted of a particular offence. According to Cessare Beccaria,  who       is supposed  to  be  the  intellectual  progenitor  of  today’s  fixed       sentencing movement, “crimes are only to be  measured  by  the  injury       done to society”. But the 20th  Century  sociologists  do  not  wholly       agree with this view. In the opinion of Von Hirsch,  the  “seriousness       of a crime depends both on the harm done (or risked) by  the  act  and       degree of  actor’s  culpability”.  But  how  is  the  degree  of  that       culpability to be measured. Can any thermometer be devised to  measure       its degree? This is a very baffling, difficult and intricate problem.

Secondly, criminal cases do not fall into set behavioristic  patterns.       Even  within   a   single-category   offence   there   are   infinite,       unpredictable and unforeseeable variations. No two cases  are  exactly       identical. There are countless permutations and combinations which are       beyond the anticipatory capacity of  the  human  calculus.  Each  case       presents its own distinctive features, its  peculiar  combinations  of       events and its unique configuration of  facts.  “Simply  in  terms  of       blameworthiness or  desert  criminal  cases  are  different  from  one       another in ways that legislatures cannot anticipate,  and  limitations       of language prevent the precise description of differences that can be       anticipated.” This is particularly true of murder. “There is  probably       no offence”,  observed  Sir  Ernest  Cowers,  Chairman  of  the  Royal       Commission, “that varies so widely both  in  character  and  in  moral       guilt as that which falls within the legal definition of murder”.  The       futility  of  attempting  to  lay  down   exhaustive   standards   was       demonstrated by this court in Jagmohan by citing the instance  of  the       Model Penal Code which was presented to the American Supreme Court  in       McGoutha (1971) 402 US 183.

Thirdly, a standardisation of  the  sentencing  process  which  leaves       little room for judicial discretion to take account of  variations  in       culpability within single-offence category ceases to be  judicial.  It       tends to sacrifice justice at the altar of blind  uniformity.  Indeed,       there is a real danger of such mechanical standardisation degenerating       into a bed of procrustean cruelty.

Fourthly, standardisation or sentencing discretion is a policy  matter       which belongs to the sphere  of  legislation.  When  Parliament  as  a       matter of sound legislative policy,  did  not  deliberately  restrict,       control or standardise the sentencing discretion any further than that       is encompassed by the broad contours delineated in Section 354(3), the       court would not by overleaping its bounds rush to do what  Parliament,       in its wisdom, warily did not do.”

 

The learned Judge also referred to the judgment  in  Jagmohan  Singh’s  case and observed:       “In Jagmohan, this Court had held that this sentencing  discretion  is       to be  exercised  judicially  on  well  recognised  principles,  after       balancing all the aggravating  and  mitigating  circumstances  of  the       crime. By “well recognised principles” the court obviously  meant  the       principles crystallised by judicial decisions illustrating as to  what       were regarded as aggravating  or  mitigating  circumstances  in  those       cases. The legislative changes since Jagmohan — as we  have  discussed       already — do not have the effect of  abrogating  or  nullifying  those       principles.  The  only  effect  is  that  the  application  of   those       principles is now to be guided by the paramount beacons of legislative       policy discernible from Sections 354(3) and 235(2),  namely:  (1)  The       extreme penalty can be inflicted only  in  gravest  cases  of  extreme       culpability; (2) In making choice of the sentence, in addition to  the       circumstances, of  the  offence,  due  regard  must  be  paid  to  the       circumstances of the offender, also.

xx          xx         xx         xx         xx        xx

Pre-planned, calculated, cold-blooded murder has always been  regarded       as one of an aggravated kind. In Jagmohan, it was reiterated  by  this       Court  that  if  a  murder  is  “diabolically  conceived  and  cruelly       executed”, it would justify the imposition of the death penalty on the       murderer. The same principle  was  substantially  reiterated  by  V.R.       Krishna Iyer, J., speaking for the Bench in Ediga Anamma (1974) 4  SCC       443, in these terms:

“The weapons used and the manner of their use,  the  horrendous            features of the crime and hapless, helpless state of the victim,            and the  like,  steel  the  heart  of  the  law  for  a  sterner            sentence.””

The learned Judge then noted that  in  Rajendra  Prasad  v.  State  of  U.P. (1979) 3 SCC 646,  the  majority  judgment  of  the  three-Judge  Bench  had completely reversed the view taken in Ediga Anamma v. State of  A.P.  (1974) 4 SCC 443 and observed:       “It may be noted that this indicator for imposing the  death  sentence       was crystallised in that case after paying due regard to the shift  in       legislative policy embodied in Section 354(3) of the Code of  Criminal       Procedure, 1973, although on the date of that decision  (February  11,       1974), this provision had not come  into  force.  In  Paras  Ram  case       (SLP(Crl.) Nos. 698 and 678 of 1953, decided on October,  1973)  also,       to which a reference has been made earlier, it was emphatically stated       that a person who in  a  fit  of  anti-social  piety  commits  “blood-       curdling butchery” of his child, fully deserves to  be  punished  with       death.  In  Rajendra  Prasad,  however,  the  majority  (of  2:l)  has       completely reversed the view that  had  been  taken  in  Ediga  Anamma       regarding the application of Section 354(3) on this  point.  According       to it, after the enactment of Section 354(3), “murder  most  foul”  is       not the test. The shocking nature  of  the  crime  or  the  number  of       murders committed is also not the criterion.  It  was  said  that  the       focus has now completely shifted  from  the  crime  to  the  criminal.       “Special reasons” necessary for imposing death  penalty  “must  relate       not to the crime as such but to the criminal”.

With great  respect,  we  find  ourselves  unable  to  agree  to  this       enunciation. As we read Sections 354(3) and 235(2) and  other  related       provisions of the Code of 1973, it is  quite  clear  to  us  that  for       making the choice of punishment or for ascertaining the  existence  or       absence of “special reasons” in that context, the court must  pay  due       regard both to the crime and the criminal. What is the relative weight       to be given to the aggravating and mitigating factors, depends on  the       facts and circumstances of the particular case. More often  than  not,       these two aspects are so intertwined that it is difficult  to  give  a       separate treatment to each of them. This is so because “style  is  the       man”. In many cases, the extremely cruel  or  beastly  manner  of  the       commission of murder is itself a demonstrated index  of  the  depraved       character of the perpetrator. That is why,  it  is  not  desirable  to       consider the circumstances of the crime and the circumstances  of  the       criminal in two separate watertight compartments. In a sense, to  kill       is to be cruel and therefore all murders are cruel. But  such  cruelty       may vary in its degree  of  culpability.  And  it  is  only  when  the       culpability assumes the proportion of extreme depravity that  “special       reasons” can legitimately be said to exist.

xxxx                   xxxx             xxxx

In  Rajendra  Prasad,  the  majority  said:  “It  is  constitutionally       permissible to swing a criminal out of corporeal existence only if the       security of State and Society, public order and the interests  of  the       general public compel that course as  provided  in  Article  19(2)  to       (6)”. Our objection is only to  the  word  “only”.  While  it  may  be       conceded that a murder which directly threatens,  or  has  an  extreme       potentiality to harm or endanger the security of  State  and  Society,       public order and the interests of  the  general  public,  may  provide       “special reasons” to justify the imposition of the extreme penalty  on       the person convicted of such a heinous murder, it is not  possible  to       agree that imposition of death penalty on murderers who  do  not  fall       within this narrow category is constitutionally impermissible. We have       discussed and held above that the impugned provisions in  Section  302       of the  Penal  Code,  being  reasonable  and  in  the  general  public       interest, do not offend Article 19, or its “ethos” nor do they in  any       manner violate Articles 21 and 14. All the reasons  given  by  us  for       upholding the validity of Section 302 of the Penal Code,  fully  apply       to the case of Section 354(3), Code of Criminal Procedure,  also.  The       same criticism applies to the view taken in Bishnu Deo Shaw  v.  State       of W.B. (1979) 3 SCC 714 which follows the dictum in Rajendra Prasad.”

 

 

6.    Although, in Bachan Singh’s case, the Constitution  Bench  upheld  the constitutional validity of Section 302 IPC, it did not enumerate  the  types of  cases  in  which  death  penalty  should  be  awarded  instead  of  life imprisonment. A three-Judge Bench considered this issue in Machhi  Singh  v. State of Punjab (1983) 3 SCC 470.  M.P. Thakkar, J. wrote  the  judgment  on behalf of the Bench with the following prelude:       “Protagonists of the “an eye for an eye” philosophy demand “death-for-       death”. The “Humanists” on the other hand press for the other  extreme       viz. “death-in-no-case”. A synthesis has emerged in  Bachan  Singh  v.       State  of  Punjab  wherein  the  “rarest-of-rare-cases”  formula   for       imposing death sentence in a murder case  has  been  evolved  by  this       Court. Identification of the guidelines spelled out in Bachan Singh in       order to determine whether or not death sentence should be imposed  is       one of the problems engaging our attention, to which we  will  address       ourselves in due course.”

Thakkar, J. then noted that a  feud  between  two  families  triggered  five incidents in quick succession in five different villages resulting in  death of 17 persons and approved the views expressed by  the  Sessions  Court  and the High Court  that  the  appellants  were  guilty  of  committing  heinous crimes. He then proceeded to observe:       “The reasons why the  community  as  a  whole  does  not  endorse  the       humanistic approach reflected in “death sentence-in-no-case”  doctrine       are not far to seek. In the first place, the very  humanistic  edifice       is constructed on the foundation of “reverence  for  life”  principle.       When a member of the community violates this very principle by killing       another member, the society may not feel itself bound by the  shackles       of this doctrine. Secondly, it has to be realized that every member of       the community is able to live with safety without his or her own  life       being endangered because of the protective arm of the community and on       account of the rule of law enforced by it. The very existence  of  the       rule of law and the fear of  being  brought  to  book  operates  as  a       deterrent of those who have no scruples in killing others if it  suits       their ends. Every member of the community owes a debt to the community       for this protection. When ingratitude is shown instead of gratitude by       “killing” a member  of  the  community  which  protects  the  murderer       himself from being killed, or when the community feels  that  for  the       sake of self-preservation the killer has to be killed,  the  community       may well withdraw the protection by sanctioning the death penalty. But       the community will not do so in every case. It may do so “in rarest of       rare cases” when its collective conscience is so shocked that it  will       expect the holders of the  judicial  power  centre  to  inflict  death       penalty irrespective of their personal opinion as regards desirability       or otherwise of retaining death penalty. The community  may  entertain       such a sentiment when the crime is viewed from  the  platform  of  the       motive for, or the manner of commission of the  crime,  or  the  anti-       social or abhorrent nature of the crime, such as for instance:

I. Manner of commission of murder         When the murder is committed in  an  extremely  brutal,  grotesque,       diabolical, revolting or dastardly manner so as to arouse intense  and       extreme indignation of the community. For instance,

(i) when the house of the victim is set aflame with the end in view       to roast him alive in the house.         (ii) when the victim is subjected to inhuman  acts  of  torture  or       cruelty in order to bring about his or her death.         (iii) when the body of the victim is cut into pieces or his body is       dismembered in a fiendish manner.

II. Motive for commission of murder         When the murder is committed  for  a  motive  which  evinces  total       depravity and meanness. For instance when (a) a hired assassin commits       murder for the sake of money or reward (b) a  cold-blooded  murder  is       committed with a deliberate design in order to inherit property or  to       gain control over property of a ward or a person under the control  of       the murderer or  vis-a-vis  whom  the  murderer  is  in  a  dominating       position or in a position of trust, or (c) a murder  is  committed  in       the course for betrayal of the motherland.

III. Anti-social or socially abhorrent nature of the crime         (a) When murder of a  member  of  a  Scheduled  Caste  or  minority       community  etc.,  is  committed  not  for  personal  reasons  but   in       circumstances which arouse social wrath.  For  instance  when  such  a       crime is committed in order to terrorize  such  persons  and  frighten       them into fleeing from a place or in order to deprive them of, or make       them surrender, lands or benefits conferred on them  with  a  view  to       reverse past injustices and in order to restore the social balance.

(b) In cases of “bride  burning”  and  what  are  known  as  “dowry       deaths” or when murder is committed in order to remarry for  the  sake       of extracting dowry once again or to marry another woman on account of       infatuation.

IV. Magnitude of crime         When the  crime  is  enormous  in  proportion.  For  instance  when       multiple murders say of all or almost all the members of a family or a       large number of persons of a particular caste, community, or locality,       are committed.

V. Personality of victim of murder         When the victim of murder is (a) an innocent child  who  could  not       have or has not provided even an excuse, much less a provocation,  for       murder (b) a helpless woman or a person rendered helpless by  old  age       or infirmity (c) when the  victim  is  a  person  vis-a-vis  whom  the       murderer is in a position of domination or trust (d) when  the  victim       is a public figure generally loved and respected by the community  for       the services rendered by him and the murder is committed for political       or similar reasons other than personal reasons.”

 

The learned Judge then  culled  out  the  following  propositions  from  the majority judgment in Bachan Singh’s case:       “(i)  The extreme penalty of death need not  be  inflicted  except  in            gravest cases of extreme culpability.

(ii)  Before opting for the death penalty  the  circumstances  of  the            ‘offender’ also require to be  taken  into  consideration  along            with the circumstances of the ‘crime’.

(iii)       Life imprisonment is the rule and  death  sentence  is  an            exception. In other words death sentence must  be  imposed  only            when life imprisonment appears to be  an  altogether  inadequate            punishment having regard to the relevant  circumstances  of  the            crime, and provided, and only provided,  the  option  to  impose            sentence of imprisonment  for  life  cannot  be  conscientiously            exercised having regard to the nature and circumstances  of  the            crime and all the relevant circumstances.

(iv) A balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating  circumstances  has            to be drawn up and in doing so the mitigating circumstances have            to be accorded full weightage and  a  just  balance  has  to  be            struck between the aggravating and the mitigating  circumstances            before the option is exercised.”

7.    The discussion on  the  subject  would  remain  incomplete  without  a reference to the concurring judgment of Fazal Ali, J, who was  a  member  of the Constitution Bench in Maru Ram v. Union of India (1981) 1 SCC 107.   The main question considered in that case was whether Section 433A of  the  Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr.P.C.) was violative of  Article  14  of  the Constitution and whether the provisions contained therein impinge  upon  the power vested in the President and the Governor under Articles 72 and 161  of the Constitution.  While expressing his agreement  with  the  main  judgment authored by Krishna Iyer, J. on the scope of  Section  433A  Cr.P.C.,  Fazal Ali, J. spelt out the following reasons for imposing deterrent sentences:       “(1) to protect the community against callous  criminals  for  a  long       time,

(2) to administer as clearly as possible to others tempted  to  follow       them into lawlessness on a war  scale  if  they  are  brought  to  and       convicted, deterrent punishment will follow, and

(3)  to  deter  criminals  who  are  forced   to   undergo   long-term       imprisonment from repeating their criminal acts in future.  Even  from       the point of view of reformative form  of  punishment  “prolonged  and       indefinite detention is justified not only in the name  of  prevention       but cure. The offender has been regarded in one sense as a patient  to       be discharged only when he  responds  to  the  treatment  and  can  be       regarded as safe” for the society.”

The learned Judge then referred to the judgment in Bachan Singh’s  case  and observed:       “Taking into account the modern trends in penology there are very rare       cases where the courts impose a sentence of death and even if in  some       cases where such sentences are given, by the  time  the  case  reaches       this Court, a bare minimum of the cases are left where death sentences       are upheld. Such cases are only those in which imposition of  a  death       sentence becomes an imperative necessity having regard to  the  nature       and character of the offences, the antecedents  of  the  offender  and       other factors referred to in the Constitution Bench judgment  of  this       Court in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab. In these circumstances, I am       of the opinion that the Parliament in its wisdom chose to act in order       to prevent criminals committing heinous  crimes  from  being  released       through easy remissions or substituted  form  of  punishments  without       undergoing at least a minimum period of imprisonment of fourteen years       which may in fact act as a  sufficient  deterrent  which  may  prevent       criminals from committing offences. In  most  parts  of  our  country,       particularly in the north, cases are not uncommon where even a  person       sentenced to imprisonment for life and having come back after  earning       a number of remissions has committed repeated offences. The mere  fact       that a long-term sentence or for that matter a sentence of  death  has       not produced useful results cannot support  the  argument  either  for       abolition of death sentence or  for  reducing  the  sentence  of  life       imprisonment from 14 years to something less. The question is not what       has happened because of the provisions of  the  Penal  Code  but  what       would have happened if deterrent punishments were not  given.  In  the       present distressed and disturbed atmosphere we feel that if  deterrent       punishment is not resorted to, there will be  complete  chaos  in  the       entire country and criminals will be let loose endangering  the  lives       of thousands of innocent people of our country. In spite  of  all  the       resources at its hands, it will be difficult for the State to  protect       or guarantee the life and liberty of all the  citizens,  if  criminals       are  let  loose  and  deterrent  punishment  is  either  abolished  or       mitigated. Secondly, while reformation of the  criminal  is  only  one       side of the picture, rehabilitation of the victims and granting relief       from the tortures and sufferings which are caused to them as a  result       of the offences committed by the criminals is a factor which seems  to       have been completely overlooked  while  defending  the  cause  of  the       criminals for abolishing deterrent sentences. Where one person commits       three murders it is illogical to plead for the criminal and  to  argue       that his life should be spared, without at all  considering  what  has       happened to the victims and their family. A person  who  has  deprived       another person completely of his liberty for ever and  has  endangered       the liberty of his family has no right to ask the court to uphold  his       liberty. Liberty is not a one-sided concept, nor does  Article  21  of       the Constitution contemplate such a concept. If  a  person  commits  a       criminal offence and punishment has been given to him by  a  procedure       established by law which is free and fair and where  the  accused  has       been fully heard, no question of violation of Article 21  arises  when       the  question  of  punishment  is  being  considered.  Even  so,   the       provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure of  1973  do  provide  an       opportunity to the offender,  after  his  guilt  is  proved,  to  show       circumstances under which an appropriate sentence could be imposed  on       him. These guarantees  sufficiently  comply  with  the  provisions  of       Article 21. Thus, it seems to me that while considering the problem of       penology we should not overlook the  plight  of  victimology  and  the       sufferings of the people who die, suffer or are maimed at the hands of       criminals.”                                                          (emphasis supplied)

8.    Even after the judgments in Bachan Singh’s  case  and  Machhi  Singh’s case, Jurists and human rights activists have persisted  with  their  demand for the abolition of death penalty and several attempts have  been  made  to persuade the Central Government to take concrete steps in this  regard.   It is a different story that they have not succeeded because  in  recent  years the crime scenario has changed all  over  the  world.   While  there  is  no abatement in the crimes committed due to  personal  animosity  and  property disputes, people across the world have suffered on account of new  forms  of crimes.  The monster of terrorism has spread its tentacles in  most  of  the countries.  India is one of the  worst  victims  of  internal  and  external terrorism.  In the last three decades, hundreds of innocent lives have  been lost on account of  the  activities  of  terrorists,  who  have  mercilessly killed people by using bullets,  bombs  and  other  modern  weapons.   While upholding the  constitutional  validity  of  the  Terrorist  and  Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA) in Kartar Singh v. State of  Punjab (1994) 3 SCC 569, this Court took cognizance of the spread of  terrorism  in the world in general and in India in particular, in the following words:

“From the recent past, in many  parts  of  the  world,  terrorism  and       disruption are spearheading for one reason or another and  resultantly       great leaders have been  assassinated  by  suicide  bombers  and  many       dastardly murders have been committed. Deplorably,  determined  youths       lured by hard-core criminals and underground extremists and  attracted       by the ideology of  terrorism  are  indulging  in  committing  serious       crimes against the humanity. In spite of the drastic actions taken and       intense vigilance activated,  the  terrorists  and  militants  do  not       desist from triggering lawlessness  if  it  suits  their  purpose.  In       short, they are waging a domestic war against the sovereignty of their       respective nations or against a race or community in order  to  create       an embryonic imbalance and nervous disorder in the society  either  on       being stimulated or  instigated  by  the  national,  transnational  or       international hard-core criminals or secessionists  etc.  Resultantly,       the security and integrity of the countries concerned are at peril and       the law and order in many countries is disrupted. To say  differently,       the logic of the cult of the bullet is hovering the  globe  completely       robbing off the reasons and rhymes. Therefore, every country  has  now       felt the need to strengthen vigilance against the spurt in the illegal       and criminal activities of the militants and terrorists  so  that  the       danger to its sovereignty is averted and the community is protected.

Thus, terrorism and disruptive activities are a  worldwide  phenomenon       and India is not an exception. Unfortunately in the recent  past  this       country has fallen in the firm grip of spiralling terrorists’ violence       and is caught between the deadly pangs of  disruptive  activities.  As       seen from the Objects and Reasons of the Act 31 of  1985,  “Terrorists       had been indulging in wanton killings, arson,  looting  of  properties       and other heinous crimes mostly in Punjab  and  Chandigarh”  and  then       slowly they expanded their activities to other parts  of  the  country       i.e.  Delhi,  Haryana,  U.P.  and  Rajasthan.  At  present  they  have       outstretched their activities by spreading their wings  far  and  wide       almost bringing the major  part  of  the  country  under  the  extreme       violence and terrorism by letting loose unprecedented  and  unprovoked       repression and disruption unmindful of the  security  of  the  nation,       personal liberty and right, inclusive of the right to live with  human       dignity of the innocent citizens of this country  and  destroying  the       image of many glitzy  cities  like  Chandigarh,  Srinagar,  Delhi  and       Bombay by strangulating the normal life of the  citizens.  Apart  from       many skirmishes in various parts of the country, there were  countless       serious and horrendous events engulfing many cities  with  blood-bath,       firing, looting, mad killing even without sparing women  and  children       and reducing those areas into a  graveyard,  which  brutal  atrocities       have rocked and shocked the whole nation.

Everyday, there are jarring pieces of information  through  electronic       and print media that many innocent,  defenceless  people  particularly       poor, politicians, statesmen, government officials, police  officials,       army personnel inclusive of the jawans belonging  to  Border  Security       Force have been mercilessly gunned down. No one can deny  these  stark       facts and naked truth by adopting an ostrich like attitude  completely       ignoring the impending danger. Whatever may  be  the  reasons,  indeed       there is none to deny that.”

 

THE FACTS:

9.    We shall now advert to the facts necessary  for  disposing  the  above noted writ petitions, one of which was jointly filed by  Shri  Devender  Pal Singh Bhullar  (hereinafter  referred  to  as  ‘the  petitioner’),  who  was convicted by the designated Court, Delhi for  various  offences  under  TADA and IPC and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee.  Later on,  the  Court accepted  the  oral  request  made  by  learned  senior  counsel   for   the petitioners and deleted the name  of  petitioner  No.2  from  the  array  of parties.  The other writ  petition  has  been  filed  by  the  wife  of  the petitioner and the third has been filed by Justice on Trial  Trust,  a  non- Government organization registered  under  the  Bombay  Public  Trusts  Act, 1950.

9.1   After obtaining the degree of Bachelor of Engineering from Guru  Nanak Engineering College, Ludhiana in 1990, the petitioner joined  as  a  teacher in the same college.  He was suspected  to  be  involved  in  the  terrorist activities in Punjab and it is said that he was responsible for  an  attempt made on the life of Shri Sumedh Singh Saini, the then Senior  Superintendent of Police, Chandigarh on 29.8.1991.  Shri Saini’s car was blasted by  remote control resulting in  the  death  of  some  of  his  security  guards.   The petitioner was also suspected to be responsible for an  attack  on  the  car cavalcade of the then President of Youth Congress Maninderjit  Singh  Bitta, in Delhi on 10.9.1993. As a result of the blast  caused  by  using  40  kgs. RDX, 9 persons were killed and 17 were  injured.   Apprehending  his  arrest and possible elimination by the police as is alleged to have  been  done  in the case of  his  father,  uncle  and  friend  Balwant  Singh  Multani,  the petitioner decided to go to Canada.  However, on the  basis  of  information supplied by the Indian authorities, he was taken into custody  at  Frankfurt Airport and deported to India.  He was charged with offences under  Sections 419, 420, 468 and 471 IPC,  Section  12  of  the  Passports  Act,  1967  and Sections 2, 3 and 4 TADA.  The designated Court, Delhi found him guilty  and sentenced him to death.  The appeal filed  by  him  was  dismissed  by  this Court vide judgment titled Devender Pal  Singh  v.  State  (NCT  of  Delhi), (2002) 5 SCC 234.  The review petition filed  by  the  petitioner  was  also dismissed by this Court vide order dated 17.12.2002.

9.2   Soon after dismissal of the review petition, the petitioner  submitted petition  dated  14.1.2003  to  the  President  under  Article  72  of   the Constitution and  prayed  for  commutation  of  his  sentence.   Delhi  Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee sent  letters  dated  28.1.2003  to  the  then President, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul  Kalam;  the  then  Prime  Minister,  Shri  Atal Bihari Bajpai and the former Prime Minister, Shri  H.D.  Deve  Gowda  asking for a meeting  with  them  in  connection  with  commutation  of  the  death sentence awarded to the petitioner.  After three years, Delhi Sikh  Gurdwara Management Committee submitted representations dated 6.4.2006 and  29.9.2006 to Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and the Prime  Minister  Dr.  Manmohan  Singh  and reiterated their demand for a meeting.  In the letter sent to  Dr.  Manmohan Singh, it was mentioned that the Governments of Germany and Canada had  made strong representation for clemency.  It was also pointed  out  that  Germany has already abolished death penalty and in  terms  of  Section  34C  of  the Extradition Act, 1962, death penalty cannot be imposed if the  laws  of  the State which surrenders or returns the accused do not provide for  imposition of death penalty for such crime.  The  Committee  also  made  a  mention  of large number of representations made by  the  Sikh  community,  particularly those settled in Canada, for grant of clemency to the petitioner.

9.3   During the pendency of  the  petition  filed  under  Article  72,  the petitioner  filed  Curative  Petition  (Crl.)  No.  5  of  2003,  which  was dismissed by this Court on 12.3.2003.

9.4   The files produced by the learned Additional  Solicitor  General  show that even before the petition filed by the petitioner could be processed  by the  Ministry  of  Home  Affairs,  Government  of  India,  the   President’s Secretariat forwarded letter dated 25.12.2002 sent  by  Justice  A.S.  Bains (Retd.), Chairman, Punjab Human Rights Organization and others in  the  name of ‘Movement Against  State  Repression,  Chandigarh’,  for  commutation  of death sentence awarded to the petitioner on the ground that in the  case  of Abu Salem, the Government of India had given an assurance to the  Government of Portugal that on his deportation, Abu Salem will  not  be  awarded  death penalty.

9.5   In April 2003, the President’s Secretariat forwarded to  the  Ministry of Home Affairs, the petitions received  from  the  following  personalities for showing clemency to the petitioner:

(1) Mr. David Kilgour, Secretary of State (Asia Pacific);

(2) Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada;

(3) Congress of the United States, Washington;

(4) Mr. Tony Baldry, MP, House of Commons, London;

(5) Shri Ram Jethmalani, M.P. (Rajya Sabha);

(6) Shri Justice A.S. Bains, former Judge  and  Convenor,  Devinderpal             Singh Bhullar Defence Committee; and

(7) Shri Simranjit Singh Mann, M.P. (Lok Sabha).

9.6    On  3.6.2003,  the  Ministry  of  External  Affairs   forwarded   two communications received by it from the Greek Ambassador, in his capacity  as President of the European Union Ambassador in New Delhi,  who  conveyed  the European Union’s strong conviction against the death  sentence  and  pleaded for clemency in favour of the petitioner.  Similar communications were  sent by Mr. Jean Lamberti, Member  European  Parliament,  Brussels,  and  various Sikh forums/organizations from Punjab and U.K.

9.7   After the matter was processed at different levels of the  Government, in the backdrop of internal and external pressures,  the  case  was  finally submitted to the President on 11.7.2005 with  the  recommendation  that  the mercy petition of the petitioner be rejected.   It is  not  borne  out  from the record as to what happened for the next five years and nine months,  but this much is evident that no decision was taken by the President.

9.8   On 29.4.2011, the Ministry of Home  Affairs  sent  a  request  to  the President’s Secretariat to return the file of the petitioner.  On  6.5.2011, the file was withdrawn from the President’s Secretariat  for  reviewing  the petitioner’s case.  The matter was again examined in the  Ministry  of  Home Affairs  and  on  10.5.2011,  the  then  Home  Minister  opined  that  those convicted in the cases of terrorism do not deserve any mercy  or  compassion and accordingly recommended that the sentence of death  be  confirmed.   The President accepted the advice of the Home Minister and  rejected  the  mercy petition.   The  petitioner  was  informed  about  this  vide  letter  dated 13.6.2011 sent by Deputy Secretary (Home)  to  the  Jail  Authorities.   The relevant  portion  of  the  decision  taken  by  the  President,  which  was incorporated in letter dated 30.5.2011 sent by Joint  Secretary  (Judicial), Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India to  the  Principal  Secretary, Home Department, Government of NCT of Delhi, reads as under:

“The President of India has, in exercise of the powers  under  Article       72 of the Constitution of India, been  pleased  to  reject  the  mercy       petition submitted by the condemned prisoner Devender  Pal  Singh  and       petitions on his behalf from others. The prisoner may be  informed  of       the orders of the President act accordingly.”

9.9   After rejection of his  petition  by  the  President,  the  petitioner sought leave of the Court and was allowed to amend  the  writ  petition  and make a prayer for quashing communication dated 13.6.2011.

9.10   While issuing notice of Writ Petition (Criminal) D. No.16039 of  2011 (unamended),  this  Court  directed  the  respondent  to  clarify  why   the petitions made by the petitioner had not been disposed of for  more  than  8 years.  In compliance of the  Court’s  directive,  Shri  B.M.  Jain,  Deputy Secretary (Home) filed short affidavit  dated  19/21.7.2011.   Subsequently, Shri J. L. Chugh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, filed  detailed affidavit,  paragraphs   7   and   8   of   which   are   extracted   below:

“7. Since the Mercy Petitions remained pending  consideration  of  the       President’s Secretariat a request was made by  the  Ministry  of  Home       Affairs on 20.04.2011 for withdrawal of the file of the mercy petition       from President’s Secretariat for review of this case for consideration       of the Hon’ble President of  India.  The  file  was  received  by  the       Ministry  of  Home  Affairs  on  03.05.2011   from   the   President’s       Secretariat and after reexamination of the case  the  file  was  again       submitted on 10.05.2011 to the President’s Secretariat for decision of       the Hon’ble President of India.  Finally  the  Hon’ble  President  was       pleased to reject the Mercy Petition of the petitioner on  25.05.2011.       It is submitted that  the  file  of  the  Mercy  Petition  along  with       decision of the Hon’ble President was received by the M/o Home Affairs       on 27.05.2011 and the M/o Home Affairs communicated  the  decision  of       the Hon’ble President to the GNCT of Delhi on 30.05.2011. The  details       of cases of mercy petitions submitted to President’s  Secretariat  and       decided are as under:

 

 

|       |Tenure       |Cases submitted/        |Decision | |       |             |resubmitted to the      |Arrived  | |       |             |President’s Secretariat |         | |NDA    |(March 1998  |14                      |0        | |       |to May 2004) |                        |         | |UPA I  |(May 2004 to |28                      |2        | |       |April 2009)  |                        |         | |UPA II |(May 2009 to |25                      |13       | |       |30.9.2011)   |                        |         |

 

8. With reference to the above figure, it is submitted that there were       28 Mercy petitions of death convicts pending under Article 72  of  the       Constitution in October 2009. Two cases were received in November 2009       and two new Mercy Petition cases have been received in 2011 (till 30th       September, 2011). This makes the total number of Mercy Petitions 32 as       on 30.09.2011. After the new Government was formed  in  May  2009,  in       September 2009 it was decided to recall the  cases  pending  with  the       President’s Secretariat for review in the Ministry of Home Affairs, to       assist in expediting a decision by the  President  of  India  in  each       case. The cases were recalled from President’s Secretariat one-by-one,       on the basis of the date of trial court judgment and were  resubmitted       to the President’s Secretariat after review. Recalling  of  the  cases       was  not  under  a  Constitutional  provision  but  an  administrative       decision to ensure a fair and equal treatment  of  all  cases  and  to       assist in  expediting  a  decision  by  the  Hon’ble  President.  Till       30.09.2011,  25  Mercy  Petition  were  resubmitted/submitted  to  the       President’s Secretariat.  The  Hon’ble  President  decided  one  Mercy       Petition in November 2009, four Mercy  Petitions  in  2010  and  eight       Mercy Petitions in 2011 (till  30th  September,  2011).  Therefore,  a       total of 13 Mercy Petitions have been decided by the  President  since       November 2009. Presently, 19 Mercy Petitions are pending under Article       72 of the Constitution; out of which 14 are pending  with  President’s       Secretariat and  five  are  pending  with  Ministry  of  Home  Affairs       (including the two new mercy petitions which  have  been  received  in       2011).”

 

 

 

ARGUMENTS:

10.   Shri K.T.S. Tulsi, learned senior counsel for  the  petitioner  relied upon the judgments in T.V. Vatheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu (1983) 2  SCC 68, K.P. Mohd. v. State of Kerala 1984 Supp. SCC  684  and  Javed  Ahmed  v. State of Maharashtra (1985) 1 SCC 275 and argued that 8 years’ delay in  the disposal of mercy petition should be treated as sufficient  for  commutation of death sentence into life imprisonment.  Shri Tulsi also referred  to  the judgments in Peter Bradshaw v. Attorney General Privy  Council  Appeal  Nos. 36 of 1993, Court of Appeal, Barbados, Henfield v. Attorney  General  (1996) UKPK 36, Catholic Commission v. Attorney General (2001) AHRLR  (ZWSC  1993), Commonwealth v. O’Neal (1975) 339 NE 2d 676 and De Freitas v.  Benny  (1976) AC 239 and argued that even though the judgments of other jurisdictions  are not binding on this Court, the propositions laid down  therein  can  provide useful guidance for proper understanding of  the  ambit  and  scope  of  the power vested in the President  under  Article  72  and  the  Governor  under Article 161 of the Constitution.  Shri Tulsi then referred to the  judgments in Vivian Rodrick v. State of Bengal (1971) 1 SCC  468,  State  of  U.P.  v. Suresh (1981) 3 SCC 653, Neiti Sreeramulu v. State of Andhra Pradesh  (1974) 3 SCC 314, State of U.P. v. Lala Singh (1978) 1 SCC 4  and  Sadhu  Singh  v. State (1978) 4 SCC 428 to show that this Court has  ordered  commutation  of death sentence where the delay was between one  and  seven  years.   Learned senior counsel invited  our  attention  to  the  information  obtained  from Rashtrapati Bhawan under the Right to Information Act, 2005 and argued  that long delay on the President’s  part  in  deciding  the  mercy  petitions  is inexplicable.  He emphasized that 8 years’ delay has seriously affected  the petitioner’s health, who  has  become  mentally  sick  and  this  should  be treated as an additional factor for commutation of  death  sentence  awarded to him.  In support of this submission, Shri Tulsi relied upon  the  records of Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital, Hari Nagar, New Delhi and the Institute  of Human Behaviors  And  Allied  Sciences,  Delhi  as  also  certificate  dated 2.9.2011 issued by Dr. Rajesh Kumar, Associate Professor  in  Psychiatry  at the Institute.  In the end, Shri Tulsi made an appeal that the Court  should take a sympathetic view in the petitioner’s case  because  there  is  a  sea change in the situation in Punjab.

11.   Shri Ram Jethmalani, learned senior counsel, who  assisted  the  Court as an Amicus extensively referred to the judgments in  Vatheeswaran’s  case, K.P. Mohd.’s case and Javed Ahmed’s case and argued that  the  rejection  of the petition filed by the petitioner should be  quashed  because  there  was unexplained delay of 8 years.   Learned  senior  counsel  forcefully  argued that the judgment in Triveniben v. State of Gujarat (1989) 1  SCC  678  does not lay down correct law because the Bench which decided the matter did  not notice the judgment of another Constitution Bench in Kehar  Singh  v.  Union of India (1989) 1 SCC 204.  Learned senior counsel pointed  out  that  while deciding the petition filed  under  Article  72  of  the  Constitution,  the President can independently consider the issue of guilt of the  accused  and accept the mercy petition without disturbing the  finding  recorded  by  the Court.  Shri Jethmalani submitted that attention of the Bench which  decided Triveniben’s case does not appear to have been drawn to the views  expressed in other judgments that in cases where the accused is convicted for  murder, life imprisonment  is  the  normal  punishment  and  death  penalty  can  be inflicted only in the rarest of  rare  cases,  which  involve  extraordinary brutality in the commission of the crime or other  aspects  of  heinousness. Learned senior counsel then argued that delay in deciding a  mercy  petition filed under Article 72 or Article 161 of the Constitution due  to  executive indifference or callousness or other extraneous  reasons  should  always  be treated  as  sufficient  for  commutation  of  death  sentence   into   life imprisonment.

12.   Shri Andhyarujina, learned  senior  counsel,  who  also  assisted  the Court as an Amicus commenced his submissions by pointing out that the  power reposed in the President under Article 72 and  the  Governor  under  Article 161 of the Constitution is not  a  matter  of  grace  or  mercy,  but  is  a constitutional duty of great significance and the same has to  be  exercised with great care  and  circumspection  keeping  in  view  the  larger  public interest. He referred to the judgment of the U.S. Supreme  Court  in  Biddle v. Perovoch 274 US 480 as also the judgments of this Court in Kehar  Singh’s case and Epuru  Sudhakar  v.  Government  of  A.P.  (2006)  8  SCC  161  and submitted that the power to grant pardon etc. is  to  be  exercised  by  the President not only for the benefit of the convict, but also for the  welfare of the people.  Learned senior counsel submitted that  inordinate  delay  in disposal of a petition filed under Article 72 or 161 is cruel,  inhuman  and degrading.  He relied upon  a  passage  from  the  book  titled  “The  Death Penalty” A Worldwide Perspective by Roger Hood  &  Carolyne  Hoyle  4th  Ed. Pages 175-186 and submitted that keeping a convict  in  suspense  for  years together  is  totally  unjustified  because  it  creates  adverse   physical conditions and psychological stress on the convict under sentence of  death.  Shri Andhyarujina relied on Riley v. Attorney General of Jamaica  (1983)  1 AC 719, Pratt v. Attorney General of Jamaica (1994) 2 AC 1 and  argued  that except in cases involving delay by or on behalf of the  convict,  the  Court should always lean in favour of  commutation  of  death  sentence.   Learned senior counsel lamented that in a large number of cases, the  President  did not decide the petitions filed under Article 72 and,  therefore,  the  Court should consider the desirability of ordering commutation of  death  sentence in all such cases.

13.   Shri Shyam Divan, Senior Advocate, who appeared for the petitioner  in SLP(Crl.) No.1105 of 2012 submitted that if  delay  in   completion  of  the proceedings is considered as a relevant factor by the High Courts  and  this Court for converting the death sentence into  life  imprisonment,  delay  in the execution of the death sentence should be treated by  the  President  as sufficient for invoking the power vested in him  under  Article  72  of  the Constitution for grant of pardon.   In  support  of  his  submissions,  Shri Divan relied upon the judgments in Vivian  Rodrick’  case,  Madhu  Mehta  v. Union of India (1989) 3 SCR 775, Daya Singh v. Union of India (1991)  3  SCC 61 and Shivaji Jaising Babar v. State of Maharashtra (1991) 4 SCC 375.

14.   Shri K.V. Vishwanathan, learned senior counsel, who argued  on  behalf of the intervenor, PUDR, submitted that the attempt made by  the  respondent to equate the delay  in  judicial  processes  and  the  delay  in  executive processes should be rejected in view of the judgment  in  Triveniben’s  case because there is a marked qualitative difference between  the  judicial  and executive processes.  Learned senior counsel submitted that  when  a  matter remains  pending  before  the  Court,  the  State  and  the   accused   take adversarial positions and submit their  dispute  before  the  judiciary  for resolution whereas under the clemency jurisdiction, the accused  pleads  for mercy before the same party that  prosecuted  him.  Learned  senior  counsel emphasized that there is an element of total  submissiveness  and  surrender when mercy/pardon is sought by the accused and there is no adversarial  role at this stage. Shri Vishwanathan relied upon the minority  judgment  of  the Privy Council in Noel Riley v. Attorney General (supra) and argued that  the prolonged incarceration of a death row convict  under  the  guise  that  the mercy petitions are pending disposal or due to gross delay  in  disposal  of mercy petitions renders  the  sentence  of  death  in-executable.    Learned senior counsel pointed out  that  India  is  a  signatory  to  a  number  of International Covenants and Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of  Human Rights and Article 7 of the International Covenants on Civil  and  Political Rights state that no-one should be subjected to cruel, inhuman or  degrading treatment or punishment and submitted that  long  incarceration  awaiting  a verdict on a condemned  prisoner’s  mercy  petition  amounts  to  cruel  and inhuman treatment of such prisoner, which  amounts  to  violation  of  these Covenants.  Learned senior counsel also referred to the  memorandum  of  the Ministry of Home Affairs relating  to  “Procedure  regarding  petitions  for mercy in death sentence cases” and submitted that  various  clauses  thereof recognise the need for handling the disposal of mercy petitions with  utmost expedition and speed.   In support of his  argument  that  delay  should  be treated  as  sufficient  for  commutation  of  death  sentence   into   life imprisonment, Shri Vishwanathan relied upon the judgments of this  Court  in Madhu Mehta’s case and Jagdish v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2009) 9  SCC  495 and a judgment from Zimbabwe  being  Catholic  Commission  for  Justice  and Peace in Zimbabwe v. Attorney General, Zimbabwe  &  Ors.  1993  (4)  SA  239 (ZS).

15.   Shri Harin P. Raval, learned Additional Solicitor  General  emphasized that the disposal of petitions filed  under  Articles  72  and  161  of  the Constitution requires consideration of various factors, i.e., the nature  of crime, the manner in which the crime is committed  and  its  impact  on  the society and that the time consumed in this process cannot  be  characterised as delay.  Shri Raval pointed out that the petitions filed by and on  behalf of the petitioner were considered at various levels  of  the  Government  in the light of the  representations  made  by  various  individuals  including public representatives from  within  and  outside  the  country  apart  from different organizations all of whom had espoused his cause  and,  therefore, it cannot be said that  there  was  undue  delay  in  the  disposal  of  the petition.  Learned Additional Solicitor General then submitted that no  time frame can be fixed for the President to decide  the  petitions  filed  under Article 72 and delay cannot be a ground for  commuting  the  death  sentence imposed on the petitioner ignoring that  he  was  convicted  for  a  heinous crime of killing nine innocent persons.   He  relied  upon  the  proposition laid down by the Constitution Bench  in  Triveniben’s  case  that  no  fixed period of delay in the disposal of petitions filed under Article 72  or  161 can be judicially prescribed to make the  sentence  of  death  in-executable and  argued  that  the  contrary  views  expressed  by  smaller  Benches  in Vatheeswaran’s case and Javed Ahmed’s case should be declared as not  laying down correct law.

16.   The arguments of the learned counsel for  the  parties/intervenor  and the learned Amicus have given rise to the following questions:

(a) What is the nature of power vested in the President under  Article       72 and the Governor under Article 161 of the Constitution?

(b) Whether delay in deciding a petition filed under  Article  72  or       161 of the Constitution is, by  itself,  sufficient  for  issue  of  a       judicial fiat for commutation of  the  sentence  of  death  into  life       imprisonment irrespective of the nature and  magnitude  of  the  crime       committed by the convict and the fact that the  delay  may  have  been       occasioned due  to  direct  or  indirect  pressure  brought  upon  the       Government by the convict through individuals, groups  of  people  and       organizations from within or outside the country  or  failure  of  the       concerned public authorities to perform their duty?

(c) Whether the parameters laid down  by  the  Constitution  Bench  in       Triveniben’s case for judging the issue of delay in the disposal of  a       petition filed under Article 72 or 161  of  the  Constitution  can  be       applied to the cases in which an accused  has  been  found  guilty  of       committing offences under TADA  and other similar statutes?

(d) What is the scope of the Court’s power of judicial review  of  the       decision taken by the President under  Article  72  and  the  Governor       under Article 161 of the Constitution, as the case may be?

17.   We can find abstract answers to each of  the  aforesaid  questions  in the judicial pronouncements of this Court and while doing so,  we  can  also derive help  from  the  judgments  of  other  jurisdictions,  but  the  most important  issue  which  calls  for  indepth  examination,  elucidation  and determination in these cases is whether delayed  disposal  of  the  petition filed under Article 72 can justify judicial review of the decision taken  by the President  not  to  grant  pardon  and  whether  the  Court  can  ordain commutation of the sentence of death into  life  imprisonment  ignoring  the nature and magnitude of the crime, the motive and manner  of  commission  of the crime, the type of weapon used for  committing  the  crime  and  overall impact of crime on the society apart from the fact  that  substantial  delay in the disposal of the petition filed under Article  72  can  reasonably  be attributed  to  the  internal  and  external  pressure  brought   upon   the Government on behalf of the convict by filing a spate of  petitions  and  by using other means.

Re: Question No. (a): 18.   The nature of the power vested in the President under Article  72  and the Governor under Article 161 of the Constitution  was  considered  by  the Constitution Bench in Maru Ram’s case.   The  main  question  considered  in that case was whether the power of remission vested in the Government  under Section 433A Cr.P.C. is  in  conflict  with  Articles  72  and  162  of  the Constitution. While answering the question in the  negative,  Krishna  Iyer, J., who authored the main judgment, observed:       “It is  apparent  that  superficially  viewed,  the  two  powers,  one       constitutional and the  other  statutory,  are  coextensive.  But  two       things may be  similar  but  not  the  same.  That  is  precisely  the       difference. We cannot agree that the power which is  the  creature  of       the Code can  be  equated  with  a  high  prerogative  vested  by  the       Constitution in the highest functionaries of the Union and the States.       The source is different, the substance is different, the  strength  is       different, although the stream may be flowing along the same  bed.  We       see the two powers as far from being identical,  and,  obviously,  the       constitutional power is “untouchable” and “unapproachable” and  cannot       suffer the vicissitudes of simple  legislative  processes.  Therefore,       Section  433-A  cannot  be  invalidated  as  indirectly  violative  of       Articles 72 and 161. What the Code gives, it  can  take,  and  so,  an       embargo on Sections 432 and 433(a) is within the legislative power  of       Parliament.

Even so, we must remember the constitutional status of Articles 72 and       161 and it is common ground that Section 433-A  does  not  and  cannot       affect even a wee  bit  the  pardon  power  of  the  Governor  or  the       President. The necessary sequel to this logic is that  notwithstanding       Section 433-A the President and the Governor continue to exercise  the       power of commutation and release under the aforesaid articles.

Are we back to square one?  Has  Parliament  indulged  in  legislative       futility with a formal victory but a real defeat? The answer is  “yes”       and “no”. Why “yes”? Because the President is  symbolic,  the  Central       Government is the reality even as the Governor is the formal head  and       sole repository of the executive power  but  is  incapable  of  acting       except on, and according to, the advice of his Council  of  Ministers.       The upshot is that the State Government, whether the Governor likes it       or not, can advice and act under Article 161, the Governor being bound       by that advice. The action of commutation  and  release  can  thus  be       pursuant to a governmental decision  and  the  order  may  issue  even       without the Governor’s approval although, under the Rules of  Business       and as a matter of constitutional courtesy, it is obligatory that  the       signature of the Governor should authorise the pardon, commutation  or       release.  The  position  is  substantially  the  same  regarding   the       President. It is not open either to the President or the  Governor  to       take independent decision or  direct  release  or  refuse  release  of       anyone of their own choice.  It  is  fundamental  to  the  Westminster       system that the Cabinet rules and the Queen reigns  being  too  deeply       rooted as foundational to our system no serious encounter was met from       the learned Solicitor-General whose sure grasp of fundamentals did not       permit him to controvert the proposition, that the President  and  the       Governor, be they  ever  so  high  in  textual  terminology,  are  but       functional euphemisms promptly acting on and only on the advice of the       Council of Ministers have in a narrow area of power.  The  subject  is       now beyond controversy, this Court having  authoritatively  laid  down       the law in Shamsher Singh case (1974) 2 SCC 831. So,  we  agree,  even       without reference to Article 367(1) and Sections 3(8)(b) and  3(60)(b)       of the General Clauses Act, 1897, that, in the matter of  exercise  of       the powers under Articles 72 and 161, the two highest  dignitaries  in       our constitutional scheme act and must act not on their  own  judgment       but in accordance with the aid and advice of  the  ministers.  Article       74, after  the  42nd  Amendment  silences  speculation  and  obligates       compliance. The Governor vis-à-vis his Cabinet is no higher  than  the       President save in a narrow area which does not  include  Article  161.       The constitutional conclusion is that the Governor is but a  shorthand       expression  for  the  State  Government  and  the  President   is   an       abbreviation for the Central Government.”                                                          (emphasis supplied)

19.   The proposition laid  down  in  Maru  Ram’s  case  was  reiterated  by another Constitution Bench in Kehar Singh’s case in the following words:

“The Constitution of India,  in  keeping  with  modern  constitutional       practice, is a constitutive document, fundamental to the governance of       the country, whereby, according  to  accepted  political  theory,  the       people of India have provided a constitutional  polity  consisting  of       certain primary organs, institutions and functionaries to exercise the       powers provided in the Constitution. All power belongs to the  people,       and  it  is  entrusted  by  them   to   specified   institutions   and       functionaries with the  intention  of  working  out,  maintaining  and       operating a constitutional order.  The  Preambular  statement  of  the       Constitution begins with the significant recital:

“We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India       into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic …  do  hereby       adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.”

To any civilised society, there can be no  attributes  more  important       than the life and personal liberty of its  members.  That  is  evident       from the paramount position given by the courts to Article 21  of  the       Constitution. These twin attributes  enjoy  a  fundamental  ascendancy       over all other attributes of  the  political  and  social  order,  and       consequently, the Legislature, the Executive  and  the  Judiciary  are       more  sensitive  to  them  than  to  the  other  attributes  of  daily       existence. The deprivation of personal liberty and the threat  of  the       deprivation of life by the action of the State is  in  most  civilised       societies regarded  seriously  and,  recourse,  either  under  express       constitutional provision or through legislative enactment is  provided       to the judicial organ. But, the fallibility of  human  judgment  being       undeniable even in the most  trained  mind,  a  mind  resourced  by  a       harvest of experience, it has been considered appropriate that in  the       matter of life and personal liberty, the protection should be extended       by entrusting power further to some high authority to  scrutinise  the       validity of the  threatened  denial  of  life  or  the  threatened  or       continued denial of personal liberty. The  power  so  entrusted  is  a       power belonging to the people and reposed in the highest dignitary  of       the State. In England, the power is regarded as the royal  prerogative       of pardon exercised by  the  Sovereign,  generally  through  the  Home       Secretary. It is a power which is capable of exercise on a variety  of       grounds, for reasons of State as  well  as  the  desire  to  safeguard       against judicial error. It  is  an  act  of  grace  issuing  from  the       Sovereign. In the United States, however, after the  founding  of  the       Republic, a pardon by the President has been regarded not as a private       act of grace but as  a  part  of  the  constitutional  scheme.  In  an       opinion, remarkable for its erudition and clarity, Mr Justice  Holmes,       speaking for the Court in W.I. Biddle v. Vuco Perovich (71 L Ed  1161)       enunciated this  view,  and  it  has  since  been  affirmed  in  other       decisions. The power to pardon is a part of the constitutional scheme,       and we have no doubt, in our mind, that it should be so  treated  also       in the Indian Republic. It has been reposed by the people through  the       Constitution in the Head of the State, and enjoys high status. It is a       constitutional responsibility of great significance, to  be  exercised       when occasion arises in accordance with the discretion contemplated by       the context. It is not denied,  and  indeed  it  has  been  repeatedly       affirmed in the course  of  argument  by  learned  counsel,  Shri  Ram       Jethmalani and Shri Shanti Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners that       the power to pardon rests on the advice tendered by the  Executive  to       the President, who subject to the provisions of Article 74(1)  of  the       Constitution, must act in accordance with such advice.”

(emphasis supplied)

In that case, the Constitution Bench also considered whether  the  President can, in exercise of the  power  vested  in  him  under  Article  72  of  the Constitution, scrutinize the evidence on record  and  come  to  a  different conclusion than the one arrived at by the Court and held:       “We are of the view that it is open to the President in  the  exercise       of the power vested in him  by  Article  72  of  the  Constitution  to       scrutinise the evidence on the record of the criminal case and come to       a different conclusion from that recorded by the court  in  regard  to       the guilt of, and sentence imposed on, the accused. In doing  so,  the       President does not amend or modify or supersede the  judicial  record.       The judicial record remains intact,  and  undisturbed.  The  President       acts in a wholly different plane from that in which the  Court  acted.       He acts under a constitutional power, the nature of which is  entirely       different from the  judicial  power  and  cannot  be  regarded  as  an       extension of it. And this is so, notwithstanding  that  the  practical       effect of the Presidential act is to remove the stigma of  guilt  from       the accused or to remit the sentence imposed on him. ….

The legal effect of a pardon  is  wholly  different  from  a  judicial       supersession of the original sentence. It is the nature of  the  power       which is determinative. …

It is apparent that the power under Article 72 entitles the  President       to examine the  record  of  evidence  of  the  criminal  case  and  to       determine for himself whether the case is one deserving the  grant  of       the relief falling within that power.  We  are  of  opinion  that  the       President  is  entitled  to  go  into   the   merits   of   the   case       notwithstanding  that  it  has  been  judicially  concluded   by   the       consideration given to it by this Court.

….the power under  Article  72  is  of  the  widest  amplitude,  can       contemplate a myriad kinds and categories  of  cases  with  facts  and       situations varying from case to case, in which the merits and  reasons       of State may be profoundly assisted by prevailing occasion and passing       time. And it is of great significance that the function itself  enjoys       high status in the constitutional scheme.”

20.   In State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi) v. Prem Raj (2003) 7  SCC  121,  this Court was called upon to consider whether in  a  case  involving  conviction under Section 7 read with Section 13(1)(d) of the Prevention  of  Corruption Act, 1988, the High Court could commute  the  sentence  of  imprisonment  on deposit  of  a  specified  amount  by  the  convict  and  direct  the  State Government to pass appropriate order under Section 433(c) Cr.P.C.  The  two- Judge Bench referred to some of  the  provisions  of  the  Cr.P.C.  as  also Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution and observed:       “A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with       the execution of the laws, which exempts the individual on whom it  is       bestowed from the punishment the law  inflicts  for  a  crime  he  has       committed. It affects both the punishment prescribed for  the  offence       and the guilt of the offender; in other words, a full pardon may  blot       out the guilt itself. It does not amount to an  acquittal  unless  the       court otherwise directs. Pardon is to be distinguished from  “amnesty”       which is defined as “general pardon of political prisoners; an act  of       oblivion”. As understood in common parlance,  the  word  “amnesty”  is       appropriate only where political prisoners are  released  and  not  in       cases  where  those  who  have  committed  felonies  and  murders  are       pardoned.

xxxx                   xxxx                  xxxx

“Pardon is one of the many prerogatives  which  have  been  recognized       since time immemorial as being vested in the Sovereign,  wherever  the       sovereignty might lie.” This sovereign power to  grant  a  pardon  has       been recognized in our Constitution in Articles 72 and 161,  and  also       in Sections 432 and 433 of the Code. Grant of pardon to an  accomplice       under certain conditions as contemplated by Section 306 of the Code is       a variation of this very power. The grant of  pardon,  whether  it  is       under Article 161 or 72 of the Constitution or under Sections 306, 432       and 433 is the exercise of sovereign power.”

 

21.   In Epuru Sudhakar v.  Government  of  A.P.  (supra),  which  was  also decided by a two-Judge Bench, Arijit Pasayat, J. referred to Section 295  of the Government of India Act, 1935, Articles 72 and 161 of the  Constitution, 59 American Jurisprudence (2nd Edition), Corpus Juris  Secundum  Vol.  67-A, Wade Administrative Law (9th Edition), Maru Ram’s case, Kehar  Singh’s  case and reiterated the views expressed by him in Prem Raj’s case on  the  nature of the power vested in the President and the Governor under Articles 72  and 161 of the Constitution.  In his concurring judgment, S. H. Kapadia,  J  (as he then was) observed:       “Pardons, reprieves and remissions are manifestation of  the  exercise       of prerogative power. These are not acts of grace. They are a part  of       constitutional  scheme.  When  a  pardon  is  granted,   it   is   the       determination of the ultimate authority that public  welfare  will  be       better served by inflicting less than what the judgment has fixed.

The power to grant pardons and reprieves  was  traditionally  a  royal       prerogative and was regarded as an absolute power. At the  same  time,       even in the earlier days, there was a general rule that if the king is       deceived, the pardon is void, therefore, any separation  of  truth  or       suggestion of falsehood vitiated  the  pardon.  Over  the  years,  the       manifestation of this power got diluted.

Exercise of executive clemency is  a  matter  of  discretion  and  yet       subject to certain standards. It is not a matter of privilege. It is a       matter of performance of official duty. It is vested in the  President       or the Governor, as the case may  be,  not  for  the  benefit  of  the       convict only, but for the welfare of the people who may insist on  the       performance of  the  duty.  This  discretion,  therefore,  has  to  be       exercised on  public  considerations  alone.  The  President  and  the       Governor are the sole judges of the sufficiency of facts  and  of  the       appropriateness of granting the pardons and reprieves.  However,  this       power is an enumerated power in the Constitution and its  limitations,       if any, must be found  in  the  Constitution  itself.  Therefore,  the       principle of exclusive cognizance would not  apply  when  and  if  the       decision impugned is in derogation of a constitutional provision. This       is the basic working  test  to  be  applied  while  granting  pardons,       reprieves, remissions and commutations.

Granting of pardon is in no sense an  overturning  of  a  judgment  of       conviction, but rather it is an executive  action  that  mitigates  or       sets aside the punishment for a crime. It  eliminates  the  effect  of       conviction without addressing the defendant’s guilt or innocence.  The       controlling factor in determining whether the exercise of  prerogative       power is subject to judicial review is not its source but its subject-       matter. It can no longer be said that prerogative power is ipso  facto       immune from judicial review. An undue exercise of this power is to  be       deplored. Considerations of religion, caste or political  loyalty  are       irrelevant and  fraught  with  discrimination.  These  are  prohibited       grounds. The Rule of Law is the basis for evaluation of all decisions.       The supreme  quality  of  the  Rule  of  Law  is  fairness  and  legal       certainty. The principle of legality occupies a central  plan  in  the       Rule of Law. Every prerogative has to be subject to the Rule  of  Law.       That  rule  cannot  be  compromised  on  the  grounds   of   political       expediency. To go by such considerations would be  subversive  of  the       fundamental principles of the Rule of  Law  and  it  would  amount  to       setting a dangerous precedent. The Rule of Law principle  comprises  a       requirement of “Government according to law”. The ethos of “Government       according to law” requires the prerogative to be exercised in a manner       which  is  consistent  with  the  basic  principle  of  fairness   and       certainty. Therefore, the power of executive clemency is not only  for       the benefit of the convict, but while  exercising  such  a  power  the       President or the Governor, as the case may be, has to keep in mind the       effect of his decision on the family of the victims, the society as  a       whole and the precedent it sets for the future.

The  power  under  Article  72  as  also  under  Article  161  of  the       Constitution is of the widest amplitude and envisages myriad kinds and       categories of cases with facts and situations  varying  from  case  to       case. The exercise of power depends upon the facts  and  circumstances       of each case and the necessity or justification for exercise  of  that       power has to be judged from case to case. It is important to  bear  in       mind that every aspect of the exercise of the power under  Article  72       as also under Article 161 does not fall in  the  judicial  domain.  In       certain cases, a particular aspect may not  be  justiciable.  However,       even in such cases there has to exist requisite material on the  basis       of which the power is exercised under Article 72 or under Article  161       of the Constitution, as the case may be.  In  the  circumstances,  one       cannot draw the guidelines for regulating the exercise of the power.”

 

22.   The propositions which can be culled out from the ratio of  the  above noted judgments are: (i)   the power vested in the President under Article 72  and  the  Governor under Article 161 of the Constitution is  manifestation  of  prerogative  of the State.  It is neither a matter of grace nor a matter of  privilege,  but is an important  constitutional  responsibility  to  be  discharged  by  the highest executive keeping  in  view  the  considerations  of  larger  public interest and welfare of the people. (ii)  while exercising power under Article 72, the President is required  to act on the aid and advice of the Council of  Ministers.   In  tendering  its advice  to  the  President,  the  Central  Government  is  duty   bound   to objectively place the case of the convict with a clear indication about  the nature and magnitude of the crime  committed  by  him,  its  impact  on  the society and all incriminating and extenuating circumstances.   The  same  is true about the State Government, which is required to  give  advice  to  the Governor  to  enable  him  to  exercise  power  under  Article  161  of  the Constitution.  On receipt of the advice of the Government, the President  or the Governor, as the case may be, has  to  take  a  final  decision  in  the matter.  Although, he/she cannot overturn the final verdict  of  the  Court, but in appropriate case, the President or the Governor, as the case may  be, can after scanning the record of the case, form his/her independent  opinion whether a case is made out for grant of pardon,  reprieve,  etc..    In  any case, the President or the Governor,  as  the  case  may  be,  has  to  take cognizance of the relevant facts and then decide whether a case is made  out for exercise of power under Article 72 or 161 of the Constitution.

Re: Question Nos. (b) and (c): 23.   These questions merit simultaneous consideration.  But,  before  doing that, we may take cognizance of paragraphs I  to  VII  of  the  instructions issued by the Government of India regarding the procedure to be observed  by the States for dealing with the petitions for mercy from  or  on  behalf  of the convicts under sentence of death, which are extracted below:

“INSTRUCTIONS  REGARDING  PROCEDURE TO  BE OBSERVED BY THE STATES  FOR       DEALING WITH PETITIONS FOR MERCY FROM OR ON BEHALF OF  CONVICTS  UNDER       SENTENCE  OF  DEATII  AND  WITH  APPEALS  TO  THE  SUPREME  COURT  AND       APPLICATIONS FOR SPECIAL  LEAVE  TO  APPEAL  TO  THAT  COURT  BY  SUCH       CONVICTS.                             ____________________

A. PETITIONS FOR MERCY.

I. A convict under sentence of death shall be allowed, if he  has  not       already submitted a  petition  for  mercy,  for  the  preparation  and       submission of a petition for mercy, seven days  after,  and  exclusive       of, the date on which the Superintendent of Jail informs  him  of  the       dismissal by the Supreme Court of his appeal or of his application for       special leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Provided that in cases where no appeal to the Supreme Court  has  been       preferred or no application for special leave to appeal to the Supreme       Court has been lodged, the said period of seven days shall be computed       from the date next after the date on which the period allowed  for  an       appeal to the Supreme Court or for lodging an application for  special       leave to appeal to the Supreme Court expires.

II. If the convict submits a petition  within  the  above  period,  it       shall be addressed: —

(a) in the case of States to  the  Governor  of  the  State  (Sadar-i-       Riyasat in the case of Jammu and Kashmir) and the President of  India:       and

(b) in the case of Union Territories to the President of India.

The execution of sentence shall in  all  cases  be  postponed  pending       receipt of their orders.

III The petition shall in the first instance: —

(a) in the case of States be sent to the  State  Government  concerned       for consideration and orders of the Governor (Sadar-i-Riyasat  in  the       case of Jammu and Kashmir). If after consideration it is  rejected  it       shall be forwarded to  the  Secretary  to  the  Government  of  India.       Ministry of Home Affairs. If it is decided to commute the sentence  of       death, the petition addressed to  the  President  of  India  shall  be       withheld  and  an  intimation  of  the  fact  shall  be  sent  to  the       petitioner;

Note:—The petition made in a case where the sentence of death  is  for       an offence against any law exclusively relatable to a matter to  which       the executive power of the Union extends, shall not be  considered  by       the State Government but shall forthwith be forwarded to the Secretary       to the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs.

(b) in the case of Union Territories, be sent to the  Lieut.-Governor/       Chief Commissioner/Administrator who shall forward it to the Secretary       to the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, stating that the       execution has been postponed pending the receipt of the orders of  the       President of India.

IV. If the convict submits the petition after the period prescribed by       Instruction I above, it will be within the  discretion  of  the  Chief       Commissioner or the Government of the State concerned, as the case may       be, to consider the petition and to postpone  execution  pending  such       consideration and also to withhold or not  to  withhold  the  petition       addressed to the President. In the following  circumstances,  however,       the petition shall be forwarded to the Secretary to the Government  of       India, Ministry of Home Affairs:

(i) if the sentence of death was passed by an appellate  court  on  an       appeal  against  the  convict’s  acquittal  or  as  a  result  of   an       enhancement of sentence by the appellate court,  whether  on  its  own       motion or on an application for enhancement of sentence, or

(ii) when there are any circumstances about the case,  which,  in  the       opinion of the Lieut.-Governor/Chief Commissioner/Administrator or the       Government of the State concerned, as  the  case  may  be,  render  it       desirable that the President should have an opportunity of considering       it, as in cases of a political character     and those  in  which  for       any special reason considerable  public  interest  has  been  aroused.       When the petition is forwarded to the Secretary to the  Government  of       India, Ministry of Home Affairs, the execution shall simultaneously be       postponed pending receipt of orders of the President thereon.

V. In all cases in which a petition for mercy  from  a  convict  under       sentence of  death  is  to  be  forwarded  to  the  Secretary  to  the       Government  of  India,  Ministry  of   Home   Affairs,   the   Lieut.-       Governor/Chief Commissioner/ Administrator or the  Government  of  the       State concerned, as the case may be. shall forward  such  petition  as       expeditiously as possible along with the records of the case  and  his       or its observations in respect of any of  the  grounds  urged  in  the       petition. In the case of States, the Government of the State concerned       shall, if it had previously rejected any petition addressed to  itself       or the Governor/Sadar-i-Riyasat, also forward a brief statement of the       reasons for the rejection of the previous petition or petitions.

VI. Upon the receipt of the orders of the President, an acknowledgment       shall be sent to the Secretary to the Government of India. Ministry of       Home Affairs, immediately in the manner hereinafter provided.  In  the       case of Assam and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, all orders will  be       communicated by telegram and the receipt thereof shall be acknowledged       by telegram. In the case of other States and Union Territories, if the       petition is rejected, the  orders  will  be  communicated  by  express       letter and receipt thereof shall be acknowledged  by  express  letter.       Orders commuting the death sentence will be  communicated  by  express       letter in the case of Delhi and by telegram in  all  other  cases  and       receipt thereof shall be acknowledged by express letter  or  telegram,       as the case may be.

VII. A petition submitted by a convict shall be withheld by the Lieut.-       Governor/Chief Commissioner/Administrator or  the  Government  of  the       State concerned, as the case  may  be,  if  a  petition  containing  a       similar prayer has already been submitted to  the  President.  When  a       petition is so withheld the petitioner shall be informed of  the  fact       and of the reason for withholding it.”

 

24.   The above reproduced instructions  give  a  clear  indication  of  the seriousness with which the authorities entrusted with the task of  accepting the mercy petitions are required to process the same without any delay.

25.   The question whether delay  in  the  judicial  process  constitutes  a ground for alteration of death sentence  into  life  imprisonment  has  been considered in several cases.   In Piare Dusadh v. Emperor  AIR  1944  FC  1, the  Federal  Court  of  India  altered  the  death  sentence  into  one  of transportation for life on the ground that the appellant had  been  awaiting the execution of death sentence for over one year. While vacating the  death penalty, similar approach  was  adopted  in  Vivian  Rodrick’s  case,  Neiti Sreeramulu’s case, Ediga Anamma’s case, State of  U.P.  v.  Suresh  (supra), State of U.P. v. Lalla Singh (1978) 1 SCC 142, Bhagwan Bux  Singh  v.  State of U.P. (1978) 1 SCC 214, Sadhu Singh v. State of U.P. (supra) and State  of U.P. v. Sahai (1982) 1 SCC 352.

26.   In Ediga Anamma’s case, the appellant was found guilty of killing  his own wife and a two year old child.  After approving the reasons recorded  by the trial Court and the High Court for holding the  appellant  guilty,  this Court referred to Section 354(3) Cr.P.C., which casts a duty upon the  Court to give special reasons for awarding death penalty as also the  judgment  in Jagmohan Singh’s case and observed:       “Jagmohan Singh  has  adjudged  capital  sentence  constitutional  and       whatever our view of the  social  invalidity  of  the  death  penalty,       personal predilections must bow to the law as by this Court  declared,       adopting the noble words of Justice Stanley Mosk of California uttered       in a death sentence case: “As a judge, I am bound to the law as I find       it to be and not as I fervently wish it to be”. (The Yale Law Journal,       Vol. 82, No. 6, p. 1138.)

xxxx             xxxx             xxxx

Where the murderer is too young or  too  old  the  clemency  of  penal       justice helps him. Where the  offender  suffers  from  socio-economic,       psychic or penal compulsions insufficient to attract a legal exception       or to downgrade the crime into a lesser one, judicial  commutation  is       permissible.  Other  general  social  pressures,  warranting  judicial       notice, with an extenuating impact may, in special cases,  induce  the       lesser penalty. Extraordinary features in the judicial  process,  such       as that the death sentence has hung  over  the  head  of  the  culprit       excruciatingly long, may  persuade  the  Court  to  be  compassionate.       Likewise, if others involved in the crime and similarly situated  have       received the benefit of life imprisonment or if the  offence  is  only       constructive, being under Section 302, read with Section 149, or again       the accused has acted suddenly under  another’s  instigation,  without       premeditation, perhaps the Court may humanly opt for life,  even  like       where a just cause or real suspicion of wifely infidelity  pushed  the       criminal into the crime. On the other hand, the weapons used  and  the       manner of their use, the horrendous features of the crime and hapless,       helpless state of the victim, and the like, steel the heart of the law       for a sterner sentence. We  cannot  obviously  feed  into  a  judicial       computer all such situations since they are astrological imponderables       in an imperfect and undulating society. A  legal  policy  on  life  or       death cannot be left for ad hoc mood or individual predilection and so       we have  sought  to  objectify  to  the  extent  possible,  abandoning       retributive ruthlessness, amending the deterrent creed  and  accenting       the trend against the extreme and irrevocable penalty of  putting  out       life.”

(emphasis supplied)

 

27.   In T.V. Vatheeswaran’s case, on which learned senior counsel  for  the petitioner  and  the  learned  Amicus  Shri  Ram  Jethmalani  placed   heavy reliance, the two Judge Bench considered  whether  the  appellant,  who  was convicted for an offence of murder and sentenced to death in  January,  1975 and was kept in solitary confinement for  about  8  years  was  entitled  to commutation of death sentence.   The Court  prefaced  consideration  of  the appellant’s plea by making the following observations:

“Let us examine his claim. First, let us get rid  of  the  cobwebs  of       prejudice. Sure, the murders were wicked and diabolic.  The  appellant       and his friends showed no mercy to their victims Why should any  mercy       be shown to them? But, gently, we must  remind  ourselves  it  is  not       Shylock’s pound of flesh that we seek, nor a  chilling  of  the  human       spirit. It is justice to the killer too and not justice untempered  by       mercy that we dispense. Of  course,  we  cannot  refuse  to  pass  the       sentence of death  where  the  circumstances  cry  for  it.  But,  the       question is whether in a case where after the  sentence  of  death  is       given, the accused person is made to  undergo  inhuman  and  degrading       punishment or where the execution of the sentence is endlessly delayed       and the accused is made to suffer  the  most  excruciating  agony  and       anguish, is it not open to a Court of appeal  or  a  court  exercising       writ jurisdiction, in an appropriate proceeding, to take note  of  the       circumstance when it is brought to its notice and  give  relief  where       necessary?”

 

The Bench then referred to the judgments  noted  hereinabove,  the  minority view of Lord Scarman and Lord Brightman in Noel Riley  v.  Attorney  General (supra) and observed:

“While we entirely agree with Lord Scarman and  Lord  Brightman  about       the dehumanising effect of  prolonged  delay  after  the  sentence  of       death, we enter a little caveat, but only that we may go  further.  We       think that the cause of the delay is immaterial when the  sentence  is       death. Be the cause for the delay, the time necessary for  appeal  and       consideration of reprieve or some other cause for  which  the  accused       himself may be  responsible,  it  would  not  alter  the  dehumanising       character of the delay.”

 

After noticing some more judgments, the Bench observed:

“So, what do we have now? Articles 14, 19  and  21  are  not  mutually       exclusive. They sustain, strengthen and nourish each other.  They  are       available to prisoners as well as free men. Prison walls do  not  keep       out Fundamental Rights. A person under  sentence  of  death  may  also       claim Fundamental Rights. The fiat of Article  21,  as  explained,  is       that any procedure which deprives a person of his life or liberty must       be just, fair and reasonable.  Just,  fair  and  reasonable  procedure       implies a right to free legal services where he cannot avail them.  It       implies a right to a speedy trial. It  implies  humane  conditions  of       detention, preventive or punitive. “Procedure established by law” does       not end with the pronouncement of sentence; it includes  the  carrying       out of sentence. That is as far as we have gone so far. It seems to us       but a short step, but a step in the  right  direction,  to  hold  that       prolonged detention to await the execution of a sentence of  death  is       an unjust, unfair and unreasonable procedure and the only way to  undo       the wrong is to quash the sentence of death. In the United  States  of       America where the right  to  a  speedy  trial  is  a  Constitutionally       guaranteed right, the denial of  a  speedy  trial  has  been  held  to       entitle an accused person to the dismissal of the  indictment  or  the       vacation of the sentence (vide Strunk v. United  States).  Analogy  of       American law is not permissible, but interpreting our Constitution sui       generis, as we are bound to do, we find no impediment in holding  that       the dehumanising factor of prolonged  delay  in  the  execution  of  a       sentence of death has the Constitutional implication  of  depriving  a       person of his life in an unjust, unfair and  unreasonable  way  as  to       offend the Constitutional guarantee that no person shall  be  deprived       of  his  life  or  personal  liberty  except  according  to  procedure       established by law. The appropriate relief in such a case is to vacate       the sentence of death.”

(emphasis supplied)

 

28.   In K.P. Mohd.’s case, a Bench headed by the then  Chief  Justice  Y.V. Chandrachud noted that the petitioner who was sentenced to death  had  filed a petition under Article 72 of the Constitution in 1978  but  the  same  was not decided for the next four and half years.  The writ  petition  filed  by the petitioner for commutation of death sentence into life imprisonment  was adjourned by the Court from time to time with the hope that  the  Government will expedite its process and dispose of the  mercy  petition  at  an  early date.  Notwithstanding this, the mercy  petition  was  not  decided.   After waiting for a  sufficiently  long  period,  the  Court  commuted  the  death sentence into life imprisonment by recording the following observations:

“…. It  is  perhaps  time  for  accepting  a  self-imposed  rule  of       discipline that mercy petitions shall  be  disposed  of  within,  say,       three months. These  delays  are  gradually  creating  serious  social       problems by driving the courts to reduce death sentences even in those       rarest of rare cases in which, on the most careful, dispassionate  and       humane considerations death sentence was found to be the only sentence       called for. The expectation of persons condemned to  death  that  they       still  have  a  chance  to  live  is  surely  not  of  lesser,  social       significance than  the  expectation  of  contestants  to  an  election       petition that they will one day vote on the passing of a bill.

Considering  all  the  circumstances  of  the  case,  including  those       concerning the background and motivation of the crime in  the  instant       case, we are of the opinion that the death sentence imposed  upon  the       petitioner should be set aside and in its place the sentence  of  life       imprisonment should be passed. We direct accordingly. It  is  needless       to add that the death sentence imposed upon the petitioner  shall  not       be executed. It is however necessary to add that we  are  not  setting       aside the death sentence merely for the reason that a  certain  number       of years have passed after the imposition of the death sentence. We do       not  hold  or  share  the  view  that  a  sentence  of  death  becomes       inexecutable after the lapse of any particular number of years.”

(emphasis supplied)

 

29.   After 13 days,  a  three-Judge  Bench  headed  by  the  Chief  Justice delivered the judgment titled Sher Singh v. State of  Punjab  (1983)  2  SCC 344.  The petitioners in that case were convicted  under  Section  302  read with Section 34 IPC and were sentenced to death by  the  trial  Court.   The High Court reduced the sentence imposed on one of them to life  imprisonment but upheld the sentence of death imposed on the remaining two accused.   The petitioners then challenged the constitutional validity of Section 302  IPC.  Their petition was dismissed by this Court.  Soon  thereafter,  they  filed writ petition  for  commutation  of  death  sentence  by  relying  upon  the judgment in T. V. Vatheeswaran’s case. The three-Judge Bench broadly  agreed with the ratio of the judgment in T.V. Vatheeswaran’s case, but  refused  to lay down any hard and fast rule for commutation of death sentence into  life imprisonment on the ground of delay in the Court  processes.   Some  of  the passages of the judgment in Sher Singh’s case are extracted below:

“Like our learned Brethren, we too consider that the view expressed in       this behalf by Lord Scarman and Lord Brightman in  the  Privy  Council       decision of Noel Riley is, with respect, correct. The majority in that       case did not pronounce upon this matter. The  minority  expressed  the       opinion that the jurisprudence of the civilized world  has  recognized       and acknowledged that prolonged delay in executing a sentence of death       can make the punishment when it comes inhuman and degrading:  Sentence       of  death  is  one  thing;  sentence  of  death  followed  by  lengthy       imprisonment prior to execution is another. The prolonged  anguish  of       alternating  hope  and  despair,  the  agony   of   uncertainty,   the       consequences of such suffering on the mental, emotional, and  physical       integrity and health of the individual  can  render  the  decision  to       execute the sentence of death an inhuman and degrading  punishment  in       the circumstances of a given case.

The fact that it is  permissible  to  impose  the  death  sentence  in       appropriate cases does not, however, lead to the conclusion  that  the       sentence must be executed  in  every  case  in  which  it  is  upheld,       regardless of the events which have happened since the  imposition  or       the upholding of that sentence. The inordinate delay in the  execution       of the sentence is one circumstance which has to be taken into account       while deciding whether the death sentence ought to be  allowed  to  be       executed in a given case.”

(emphasis supplied)

The area of disagreement between the two-Judge  Bench,  which  decided  T.V. Vatheeswaran’s case and the three-Judge Bench, which  decided  Sher  Singh’s case  is  reflected  in  the  following  observations  made  in  the  latter judgment:

“What we have said  above  delineates  the  broad  area  of  agreement       between ourselves and our learned Brethren who  decided  Vatheeswaran.       We must now indicate with precision the narrow area  wherein  we  feel       constrained to differ from them and the reasons why.  Prolonged  delay       in the execution of a death sentence is  unquestionably  an  important       consideration for determining whether the sentence should  be  allowed       to be executed. But, according to us, no hard and  fast  rule  can  be       laid down as our learned Brethren have done that “delay exceeding  two       years in the execution of a sentence of  death  should  be  considered       sufficient to entitle the person under sentence  to  death  to  invoke       Article 21 and demand the quashing of the  sentence  of  death”.  This       period of two years purports to have been fixed in Vatheeswaran  after       making “all reasonable allowance for the time necessary for appeal and       consideration of reprieve”. With great respect, we find it  impossible       to agree with this part of the judgment. One has only to turn  to  the       statistics of the disposal of cases in the High Court and the  Supreme       Court to appreciate that a period far exceeding two years is generally       taken by those Courts together for the disposal of  matters  involving       even the death sentence. Very often, four or five years elapse between       the imposition of  death  sentence  by  the  Sessions  Court  and  the       disposal of the special leave petition or an  appeal  by  the  Supreme       Court in that matter. This is apart from the time which the  President       or the Governor, as the case may be, takes to consider petitions filed       under Article 72 or Article 161 of the Constitution or the time  which       the Government takes to dispose of applications filed  under  Sections       432 and 433 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. It  has  been  the  sad       experience of this Court that no priority whatsoever is given  by  the       Government of  India  to  the  disposal  of  petitions  filed  to  the       President under Article 72 of the Constitution. Frequent reminders are       issued by this Court for an expeditious disposal of such petitions but       even then the petitions remain undisposed of for a long  time.  Seeing       that the petition for reprieve or commutation is not being attended to       and no reason is forthcoming as to why the delay is caused, this Court       is driven to commute the death sentence into life imprisonment out  of       a  sheer  sense  of  helplessness  and  frustration.  Therefore,  with       respect, the fixation of the time limit of two years does not seem  to       us to accord with the common experience of the time normally  consumed       by the litigative process and the proceedings before the executive.

 

Apart from the fact that the rule of two years runs in  the  teeth  of       common  experience  as  regards  the  time   generally   occupied   by       proceedings in the High  Court,  the  Supreme  Court  and  before  the       executive authorities, we are of  the  opinion  that  no  absolute  or       unqualified rule can be laid down that in every case in which there is       a long delay in the execution of a death sentence, the  sentence  must       be substituted by the sentence of life imprisonment. There are several       other factors which must be taken into account while  considering  the       question as to whether the death sentence should be vacated. A convict       is undoubtedly entitled to pursue all remedies lawfully open to him to       get rid of the sentence of death imposed upon him and indeed, there is       no one, be he blind, lame,  starving  or  suffering  from  a  terminal       illness, who does not want to live. The Vinoba Bhaves,  who  undertake       the “Prayopaveshana” do not belong to the world of  ordinary  mortals.       Therefore, it is understandable that a convict sentenced to death will       take recourse to every remedy which is available to him under the  law       to ask for the commutation of  his  sentence,  even  after  the  death       sentence is finally confirmed by this Court by dismissing his  special       leave petition or appeal. But, it is, at least, relevant  to  consider       whether  the  delay  in  the  execution  of  the  death  sentence   is       attributable to the fact that he has resorted to a series of untenable       proceedings which have the effect of defeating the ends of justice. It       is not uncommon that a series of review petitions and  writ  petitions       are filed in this Court to challenge judgments and orders  which  have       assumed finality, without any seeming justification. Stay  orders  are       obtained in those proceedings and then, at the end of  it  all,  comes       the argument that there has been prolonged delay in  implementing  the       judgment or order. We believe that the Court called upon to  vacate  a       death sentence on  the  ground  of  delay  caused  in  executing  that       sentence must find why the delay was caused and who is responsible for       it. If this is not done, the law laid down by this Court  will  become       an object of ridicule by permitting a person to defeat it by resorting       to frivolous proceedings in order to  delay  its  implementation.  And       then, the rule of two years will become a  handy  tool  for  defeating       justice. The death  sentence  should  not,  as  far  as  possible,  be       imposed. But, in that rare and exceptional class of cases wherein that       sentence is upheld by this Court, the judgment or order of this  Court       ought not to be allowed to be defeated by applying any rule of thumb.

Finally, and that is no less important, the nature of the offence, the       diverse  circumstances  attendant  upon  it,  its  impact   upon   the       contemporary society and  the  question  whether  the  motivation  and       pattern of the crime are such as are likely to lead to its repetition,       if the death sentence is vacated, are matters which  must  enter  into       the verdict as to whether the  sentence  should  be  vacated  for  the       reason that its execution is delayed. The substitution  of  the  death       sentence by a sentence of  life  imprisonment  cannot  follow  by  the       application of the two years’  formula,  as  a  matter  of  quod  erat       demonstrandum.”

(emphasis supplied)

 

30.   In Javed Ahmed v. State of  Maharashtra  (supra),  a  two-Judge  Bench presided over by O. Chinnappa Reddy, J., who had authored  the  judgment  in T.V. Vatheeswaran’s case, while reiterating the  proposition  laid  down  in T.V.  Vatheeswaran’s  case,  the  learned  Judge  proceeded  to  doubt   the competence of the larger Bench to what he termed as overruling of  the  two- Judge Bench judgment.

31.   Although, the question whether delay  in  disposal  of  the  petitions filed under Articles 72 and 161 of  the  Constitution  constitutes  a  valid ground for commutation of sentence of death into life imprisonment  did  not arise for consideration in T.V. Vatheeswaran’s case, Sher  Singh’s  case  or Javed Ahmed’s case and only  a  passing  reference  was  made  in  the  last paragraph of the judgment  in  T.V.  Vatheeswaran’s  case,  the  conflicting opinions expressed in those cases  on  the  Court’s  power  to  commute  the sentence of death into life imprisonment on the ground of delay  simpliciter resulted in a reference to  the  Constitution  Bench  in  Triveniben’s  case which related to the exercise of power by the  President  under  Article  72 and by the Governor under Article 161 of  the  Constitution.  After  hearing the  arguments,  the  Constitution  Bench  expressed  its  opinion  in   the following words:

“Undue long delay in execution of the sentence of death  will  entitle       the condemned person to approach this Court under Article 32 but  this       Court will only examine the nature of delay caused  and  circumstances       that ensued after sentence  was  finally  confirmed  by  the  judicial       process and will  have  no  jurisdiction  to  reopen  the  conclusions       reached by the court while finally maintaining the sentence of  death.       This Court, however, may consider the question of inordinate delay  in       the light of all circumstances of  the  case  to  decide  whether  the       execution of sentence should be carried out or should be altered  into       imprisonment for life. No fixed period of delay could be held to  make       the sentence of death inexecutable and to this extent the decision  in       Vatheeswaran case cannot be said to  lay  down  the  correct  law  and       therefore to that extent stands overruled.”

(This order is reported in (1988) 4 SCC 574)

 

32.   In paragraph 13 of the main judgment G.L. Oza, J., noted the  argument made on behalf of the petitioners that delay causes immense  mental  torture to a condemned prisoner and observed:

“………….It is no doubt true that sometimes in  these  procedures       some time is taken and sometimes even long time is spent. May  be  for       unavoidable circumstances and sometimes even at the  instance  of  the       accused but it was contended and rightly so that all this delay up  to       the final judicial process is taken care  of  while  the  judgment  is       finally pronounced and it could not be doubted that in number of cases       considering (sic) the time that has  elapsed  from  the  date  of  the       offence till the final decision has weighed with the courts and lesser       sentence awarded only on this account.”

The learned Judge then observed  that  while  considering  the  question  of delay after the final verdict is pronounced, the  time  spent  on  petitions for review and repeated mercy petitions at the  instance  of  the  convicted person himself shall not be considered and the only  delay  which  would  be material for consideration will be  the  delay  in  disposal  of  the  mercy petitions or delay occurring at the instance of the executive. 33.   While rejecting the argument that  keeping  a  condemned  prisoner  in jail amounts to double jeopardy, Oza, J., referred to  Section  366  Cr.P.C. and held that when a person is committed to jail awaiting the  execution  of the sentence of death, it is not an imprisonment but the prisoner has to  be kept secured till the  sentence  awarded  by  the  Court  is  executed.  The learned Judge also rejected the argument that  delay  in  execution  of  the sentence entitles a prisoner to approach this Court because his right  under Article 21 is infringed and observed:

“………..the only jurisdiction which could be sought to be exercised by a       prisoner for infringement of  his  rights  can  be  to  challenge  the       subsequent events after the final judicial verdict is  pronounced  and       it is because of this that on the ground of long or inordinate delay a       condemned prisoner could approach this Court  and  that  is  what  has       consistently been held by this Court. But it will not be open to  this       Court in exercise of jurisdiction under Article 32 to go behind or  to       examine the final verdict reached by a competent court convicting  and       sentencing the condemned  prisoner  and  even  while  considering  the       circumstances in order  to  reach  a  conclusion  as  to  whether  the       inordinate delay coupled with subsequent circumstances could  be  held       to be sufficient for coming to a  conclusion  that  execution  of  the       sentence of death will not be just  and  proper.  The  nature  of  the       offence, circumstances in which the offence was committed will have to       be taken as found by the competent court  while  finally  passing  the       verdict. It may also be open to the court to examine or  consider  any       circumstances  after  the  final  verdict  was  pronounced  if  it  is       considered relevant………….”

 

34.   K. Jagannatha Shetty, J., who delivered a concurring opinion  referred to the jurisprudential development  in  other  countries  on  the  issue  of execution of the sentence of death and observed:

“Under Article 72 of the Constitution, the President  shall  have  the       power  to  “grant  pardons,  reprieves,  respites  or  remissions   of       punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any  person       convicted of any offence”. Under  Article  161  of  the  Constitution,       similar is the power of the Governor to  give  relief  to  any  person       convicted of any offence against any law relating to a matter to which       the executive power of the  State  extends.  The  time  taken  by  the       executive for disposal of mercy petitions may depend upon  the  nature       of the case and the scope of enquiry to be made. It  may  also  depend       upon the number of mercy petitions submitted by or on  behalf  of  the       accused. The court,  therefore,  cannot  prescribe  a  time-limit  for       disposal of even for mercy petitions.

It is, however, necessary to point out that Article 21 is relevant  at       all stages. This Court  has  emphasised  that  “the  speedy  trial  in       criminal cases though not a specific fundamental right, is implicit in       the broad sweep and content of Article 21”. Speedy trial is a part  of       one’s fundamental right to life and liberty.  This  principle,  in  my       opinion, is no less important for disposal of mercy petition.  It  has       been universally recognised that a condemned person has  to  suffer  a       degree of mental torture even though there is no physical mistreatment       and no primitive  torture.  He  may  be  provided  with  amenities  of       ordinary inmates in the prison as  stated  in  Sunil  Batra  v.  Delhi       Admn., but nobody could succeed in giving him peace of mind.

[pic]Chita Chinta Dwayoormadhya,       [pic]Chinta Tatra Gariyasi,       [pic]Chita Dahati Nirjivam,       [pic]Chinta Dahati Sajeevakam.

As between funeral fire and mental worry, it is the  latter  which  is       more devastating, for, funeral fire burns only the dead body while the       mental worry burns the living one.  This  mental  torment  may  become       acute when the judicial verdict is finally set  against  the  accused.       Earlier to it, there is every reason for him to  hope  for  acquittal.       That hope is extinguished after  the  final  verdict.  If,  therefore,       there is inordinate delay in  execution,  the  condemned  prisoner  is       entitled to come to the court requesting to examine whether it is just       and fair to allow the sentence of death to be executed.

……………………………………………….  The   court       while examining the matter, for the  reasons  already  stated,  cannot       take into account the time utilised in the judicial proceedings up  to       the final verdict. The court also cannot take into  consideration  the       time taken for disposal of any petition filed by or on behalf  of  the       accused  either  under  Article  226  or  under  Article  32  of   the       Constitution after the final judgment  affirming  the  conviction  and       sentence. The court may only consider whether  there  was  undue  long       delay in disposing of mercy petition ; whether the State was guilty of       dilatory conduct and whether the delay was for no reason at  all.  The       inordinate delay, may be a significant  factor,  but  that  by  itself       cannot render the execution unconstitutional. Nor it can  be  divorced       from  the  dastardly  and  diabolical  circumstances  of   the   crime       itself………”

(emphasis supplied)

 

35.   In Madhu Mehta v. Union of India (supra),   this  Court  commuted  the death sentence awarded to  one  Gyasi  Ram,  who  had  killed  a  Government servant, namely,  Bhagwan Singh (Amin), who had attached  his  property  for recovery of arrears of land revenue.  After disposal of the criminal  appeal by this Court, the wife of the convict filed a mercy petition in 1981.   The same remained pending for 8 years.  This Court considered the writ  petition filed by the petitioner Madhu  Mehta,  who  was  the  national  convener  of Hindustani Andolan, referred to the judgments in T.V.  Vatheeswaran’s  case, Sher Singh’s case and Triveniben’s case and held  that  in  the  absence  of sufficient explanation, the death sentence should  be  converted  into  life imprisonment.

36.   The facts of Daya Singh’s case  were  that  the  petitioner  had  been convicted and sentenced to death for murdering Sardar Pratap  Singh  Kairon. The sentence was confirmed by the High Court and the special leave  petition was dismissed by this Court. After rejection  of  the  review  petition,  he filed mercy petitions before the Governor and the President of India,  which were also rejected. The writ petition filed by his  brother  Lal  Singh  was dismissed along with Triveniben’s case. Thereafter, he filed  another  mercy petition before the Governor  of  Haryana  in  November,  1988.  The  matter remained pending for next two years. Finally, he sent a letter from  Alipore Central Jail, Calcutta to the Registry of this Court for commutation of  the sentence of death into life imprisonment. This Court took cognizance of  the fact that the  petitioner  was  in  jail  since  1972  and  substituted  the sentence of imprisonment for life in place of the death sentence.

37.   The judgments of other jurisdictions, i.e., Riley v. Attorney  General of Jamaica, which has been cited in Rajendra Prasad’s case,  Ediga  Anamma’s case, T.V. Vatheeswaran’s case  and Sher Singh’s case, as also the  judgment in Pratt v. Attorney General of Jamaica, which has  been  referred  to  with approval in T.V. Vatheeswaran’s  case  do  not  provide  any  assistance  in deciding the questions framed by us. The principle laid down in those  cases is that delay in executing a sentence of death makes the punishment  inhuman and degrading and the prisoner is  entitled  to  seek  intervention  of  the Court  for  release  on  the  ground  that  there  was  no  explanation  for inordinate delay. Similarly, the study conducted by Roger Hood  and  Carolyn Hoyle of the University of Oxford, which has been published with  the  title “The Death Penalty – A Worldwide Perspective” does not advance the cause  of the petitioner.

38.   In the light of the above, we shall now consider the argument of  Shri K.T.S. Tulsi, learned senior  counsel  for  the  petitioner,  and  Shri  Ram Jethmalani and Shri Andhyarujina, Senior Advocates, who assisted  the  Court as Amicus, that long delay of 8 years in  disposal  of  the  petition  filed under Article 72 should be treated as  sufficient  for  commutation  of  the sentence of death into life imprisonment,  more  so,  because  of  prolonged detention, the petitioner has  become  mentally  sick.  The  thrust  of  the argument of the learned senior counsel is that inordinate delay in  disposal of mercy petition has rendered the sentence  of  death  cruel,  inhuman  and degrading and this is nothing short of  another  punishment  inflicted  upon the condemned prisoner.

39.   Though the argument appears attractive, on a deeper  consideration  of all the facts, we are convinced that the present case is not a fit  one  for exercise of the power of judicial review for quashing the decision taken  by the  President  not  to  commute  the  sentence  of  death  imposed  on  the petitioner.  Time and again, (Machhi  Singh’s  case,  Ediga  Anamma’s  case, Sher Singh’s case and Triveniben’s  case),  it  has  been  held  that  while imposing punishment for murder and similar type of offences,  the  Court  is not only entitled, but is duty bound to take into consideration  the  nature of the crime, the motive for commission of the crime, the magnitude  of  the crime and its  impact  on  the  society,  the  nature  of  weapon  used  for commission of the crime, etc..  If the murder is committed in  an  extremely brutal or  dastardly  manner,  which  gives  rise  to  intense  and  extreme indignation in the community, the Court may be fully justified  in  awarding the death penalty.  If the murder is committed by burning the bride for  the sake of money or satisfaction of other kinds of greed, there will  be  ample justification for awarding the death penalty.  If the enormity of the  crime is such that a large number of innocent people are killed without  rhyme  or reason, then too, award of extreme penalty of death will be justified.   All these factors have to be taken into consideration by the  President  or  the Governor, as the case may be, while deciding a petition filed under  Article 72 or 161 of the Constitution and the exercise of power by the President  or the Governor, as the case may be, not to entertain the prayer for  mercy  in such cases cannot be characterized as  arbitrary  or  unreasonable  and  the Court cannot exercise power of judicial review only on the ground  of  undue delay. 40.   We are also of the view that  the  rule  enunciated  in  Sher  Singh’s case, Triveniben’s case and some other judgments that long delay may be  one of  the  grounds  for  commutation  of  the  sentence  of  death  into  life imprisonment cannot be invoked in cases where  a  person  is  convicted  for offence under TADA or similar statutes.  Such cases stand on  an  altogether different plane and  cannot  be  compared  with  murders  committed  due  to personal animosity or over property and personal disputes.  The  seriousness of the crimes committed by the terrorists can be gauged from the  fact  that many hundred innocent civilians and men in uniform have  lost  their  lives. At times, their objective  is  to  annihilate  their  rivals  including  the political opponents.  They use bullets, bombs  and  other  weapons  of  mass killing for achieving their perverted political and other goals or wage  war against the State.  While doing so, they do not show any respect  for  human lives.  Before killing the victims, they do not  think  even  for  a  second about the parents, wives, children and other  near  and  dear  ones  of  the victims.  The families of those killed suffer the  agony  for  their  entire life, apart from financial and other losses.  It  is  paradoxical  that  the people who do not show any mercy or compassion for others  plead  for  mercy and project delay in disposal of the petition filed under Article 72 or  161 of the Constitution as a ground for commutation of the  sentence  of  death. Many others join the bandwagon to espouse the cause of  terrorists  involved in gruesome killing and mass murder of  innocent  civilians  and  raise  the bogey of human rights. Question No.(d):

41.   While examining challenge to  the  decision  taken  by  the  President under Article 72 or the Governor under Article 161 of the  Constitution,  as the case may be, the Court’s power of judicial review of  such  decision  is very limited.  The Court can neither sit in appeal nor  exercise  the  power of review, but can interfere if it is  found  that  the  decision  has  been taken without application of mind to the relevant factors  or  the  same  is founded on the extraneous or irrelevant considerations or  is  vitiated  due to malafides or patent arbitrariness – Maru Ram v. Union of India, (1981)  1 SCC 107, Kehar Singh v. Union of India (1989) 1 SCC  204,  Swaran  Singh  v. State of U.P. (1998) 4 SCC 75, Satpal v. State of Haryana (2000) 5 SCC  170, Bikas Chatterjee v. Union of India (2004)  7  SCC  634,  Epuru  Sudhakar  v. Government of A.P. (2006) 8 SCC 161 and Narayan  Dutt  v.  State  of  Punjab (2011) 4 SCC 353. 42.   So far as the petitioner is concerned, he was convicted for killing  9 innocent persons and injuring 17 others. The  designated  Court  found  that the petitioner and other members  of  Khalistan  Liberation  Front,  namely, Kuldeep, Sukhdev Singh, Harnek and Daya Singh Lahoria were  responsible  for the blast.  Their aim was to assassinate Shri M.S. Bitta, who was lucky  and escaped  with  minor  injuries.   While  upholding  the  judgment   of   the designated Court, the majority of this Court referred to  the  judgments  in Bachan Singh’s case and observed:       “From Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab and Machhi  Singh  v.  State  of       Punjab the principle culled out is that when the collective conscience       of the community is so shocked, that it will expect the holders of the       judicial power centre to inflict death penalty irrespective  of  their       personal opinion as regards desirability  or  otherwise  of  retaining       death penalty, the same can be awarded. It was observed:

The  community  may  entertain  such  sentiment   in   the   following       circumstances:

(1) When the murder is committed in an  extremely  brutal,  grotesque,       diabolical, revolting, or dastardly manner so as to arouse intense and       extreme indignation of the community.

(2) When the murder is committed for  a  motive  which  evinces  total       depravity and meanness; e.g. murder by hired  assassin  for  money  or       reward; or cold-blooded murder for gains of a  person  vis-à-vis  whom       the murderer is in a dominating position or in a position of trust; or       murder is committed in the course for betrayal of the motherland.

(3) When murder of a member of a Scheduled Caste or minority community       etc. is committed not for personal reasons but in circumstances  which       arouse social wrath; or in cases of ‘bride burning’ or ‘dowry  deaths’       or when murder is committed in  order  to  remarry  for  the  sake  of       extracting dowry once again or to marry another woman  on  account  of       infatuation.

(4) When the crime  is  enormous  in  proportion.  For  instance  when       multiple murders, say of all or almost all the members of a family  or       a large number  of  persons  of  a  particular  caste,  community,  or       locality, are committed.

(5) When the victim of murder is an  innocent  child,  or  a  helpless       woman or old or infirm person or a person vis-à-vis whom the  murderer       is in a dominating position, or a public figure  generally  loved  and       respected by the community.

If upon taking an overall global view of all the circumstances in  the       light of the  aforesaid  propositions  and  taking  into  account  the       answers to the questions posed by way of the test for  the  rarest  of       rare cases, the circumstances of the case are such that death sentence       is warranted, the court would proceed to do so.”

43.   The finding recorded by the majority on the issue of the  petitioner’s guilt is conclusive and, as held  in  Triveniben’s  case  and  other  cases, while deciding the issue whether  the  sentence  of  death  awarded  to  the accused should be converted into life imprisonment, the Court cannot  review such finding. 44.   It is true that there  was  considerable  delay  in  disposal  of  the petition filed by the petitioner but, keeping in view the peculiar facts  of the case, we are convinced that there is no valid ground to  interfere  with the ultimate decision taken by the President not to commute the sentence  of death awarded to  the  petitioner  into  life  imprisonment.   We  can  take judicial notice of the fact that a substantial  portion  of  the  delay  can well-nigh be attributed to the unending spate of the petitions on behalf  of the  petitioner  by  various  persons  to  which  reference  has  been  made hereinabove. 45.   On their part,  the  Government  of  NCT  of  Delhi  and  the  Central Government had made their respective  recommendations  within  a  period  of just over two years.  The files produced before  the  Court  show  that  the concerned Ministries had, after threadbare examination of the  factors  like the nature, magnitude and intensity of crime committed  by  the  petitioner, the findings recorded by the designated Court and this  Court  as  also  the plea put forward by the petitioner and his supporters  recommended  that  no clemency should be shown to the person found guilty of  killing  9  innocent persons and injuring 17 others by using  40  kgs.  RDX.   While  making  the recommendation, the Government  had  also  considered  the  impact  of  such crimes on the public at large.  Unfortunately, the  petition  filed  by  the petitioner remained pending with the President for  almost  6  years,  i.e., between May 2005 and May 2011.  During this  period,  immense  pressure  was brought upon the Government in the form of representations made  by  various political  and  non-political  functionaries,  organizations   and   several individuals from other countries.  This appears to be  one  of  the  reasons why the file remained pending in the President’s Secretariat and  no  effort was made for deciding the petitioner’s case.   The  figures  made  available through RTI inquiry reveal  that  during  the  particular  period,  a  large number of mercy petitions remained pending with the  President  giving  rise to unwarranted speculations.  On its part,  the  Ministry  of  Home  Affairs also  failed  to  take  appropriate  steps  for  reminding  the  President’s Secretariat about  the  dire  necessity  of  the  disposal  of  the  pending petitions.  What was done in April and May, 2011 could  have  been  done  in 2005 itself and that would have avoided unnecessary  controversy.   Be  that as it may, we are of the considered view  that  delay  in  disposal  of  the petition filed by the petitioner under Article 72 does  not  justify  review of the decision taken by the President in May  2011  not  to  entertain  his plea for clemency. 46.   Though the  documents  produced  by  Shri  K.T.S.  Tulsi  do  give  an indication that  on  account  of  prolonged  detention  in  jail  after  his conviction and sentence to death, the  petitioner  has  suffered  physically and mentally, the same cannot be relied upon for recording  a  finding  that the petitioner’s mental health has deteriorated to such an extent  that  the sentence awarded to him cannot be executed. 47.   Before parting with the judgment, we consider  it  necessary  to  take cognizance of a rather disturbing phenomena.   The  statistics  produced  by the learned Additional Solicitor General show that between  1950  and  2009, over 300 mercy petitions were filed  of  which  214  were  accepted  by  the President and the sentence of death was  commuted  into  life  imprisonment. 69 petitions were rejected by the President.  The result of one petition  is obscure.  However, about 18 petitions filed between 1999 and  2011  remained pending for a period ranging from 1 year to 13 years.  A chart  showing  the details of such petitions is annexed with  the  Judgment  as  Schedule  ‘A’. The particulars contained in  Schedule  ‘A’  give  an  impression  that  the Government and  the  President’s  Secretariat  have  not  dealt  with  these petitions with requisite seriousness.  We hope  and  trust  that  in  future such petitions will be disposed of without unreasonable delay. 48.   For the reasons stated  above,  we  hold  that  the  petitioners  have failed to make out a case for invalidation of the exercise of power  by  the President under Article 72 of the Constitution not to accept the prayer  for commutation of the sentence of  death  into  life  imprisonment.   The  writ petitions are accordingly dismissed.

…………………………………………………………………. …J.                              (G.S. SINGHVI)

 

…………………………………………………………………. ….J.                        (SUDHANSU JYOTI MUKHOPADHAYA) New Delhi; April 12, 2013                                                                 SCHEDULE ‘A’

Details of Mercy Petitions filed between 2009 and 2011, which remained                            pending till 12.5.2011.

|S.No. |Name of convicts|Date of   |Date Mercy        |Date Mercy   |Rejected /     |Period of      | |      |                |Supreme   |Petition received |Petition     |Commuted /     |Pendency       | |      |                |Court     |by MHA            |decided by   |Pendency       |               | |      |                |Judgment  |                  |the President|               |               | |      |Dharam Pal      |18.03.1999|1999              |             |Pending        |13 years       | |      |Sheikh Meeran,  |21.06.1999|2000              |             |Pending        |12 years       | |      |Selvam and      |05.07.1999|                  |             |               |               | |      |Radhakrishnan   |(Review)  |                  |             |               |               | |      |Suresh and Ramji|03.02.2001|2002              |             |Pending        |10 years       | |      |Om Prakash      |04.03.2003|2003              |             |Pending        |9 years        | |      |Lalila Doom and |20.02.2004|2004              |             |Pending        |8 years        | |      |Shivlal         |          |                  |             |               |               | |      |Praveen Kumar   |25.10.2003|2004              |             |Pending        |8 years        | |      |Madaiah and     |29.01.2004|2004              |             |Pending        |8 years        | |      |Bilavandra      |          |                  |             |               |               | |      |Karan Singh and |19.07.2005|2005              |             |Pending        |7 years        | |      |Kunwar Bahadur  |          |                  |             |               |               | |      |Singh           |          |                  |             |               |               | |      |Jafar Ali       |04.05.2004|2006              |             |Pending        |6 years        | |      |Mohd. Afzal Guru|08.04.2005|2006              |             |Pending        |6 years        | |      |Bandu Baburao   |07.10.2006|2007              |             |Pending        |5 years        | |      |Tidake          |          |                  |             |               |               | |      |Gurmeet Singh   |28.09.2005|2007              |             |Pending        |5 years        | |      |Saibanna        |21.04.2005|2007              |             |Pending        |5 years        | |      |Ningappa Natikar|          |                  |             |               |               | |      |Satish          |02.08.2005|2007              |             |Pending        |5 years        | |      |Sonia and       |          |2007              |             |Pending        |5 years        | |      |Sanjeev         |          |                  |             |               |               | |      |Bantu           |23.07.2008|2009              |             |Pending        |3 years        | |      |Prajeet Kumar   |          |2011              |             |Pending        |1 year         | |      |Sunder Singh    |          |2011              |             |Pending        |1 year         |

 

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Source http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/imgst.aspx?filename=40266

 



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