In a decision having far-reaching implications for many similar cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that a death sentence cannot be commuted to life imprisonment simply due to a delayed execution. The court has rejected an appeal by Devinderpal Singh Bhullar against his hanging on this basis, which could affect the fate of 16 other death row convicts who have made similar pleas.
Bhullar had appealed against his execution saying that his mercy plea was kept pending by the President for 8 years. He had further pleaded that having been kept in solitary confinement all these years had made him mentally imbalanced. He had been convicted of killing nine people using a car bomb in Delhi in 1993. Though Bhullar’s aim was to kill Maninderjit Singh Bitta, the then President, All India Youth Congress, he had had a lucky escape. Activists and lawyers for Bhullar have said that inordinate delays over mercy pleas amount to cruelty and violate the fundamental right to life under Article 21.
The verdict will be carefully analysed in Tamil Nadu to determine the potential impact on the fate of three men in jail for 22 years for their role in the assassination of former PM Rajiv Gandhi. Their mercy appeal was rejected after 11 years in 2011.