In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court has commuted the death penalty of 15 convicts to life imprisonment for extraordinary delay and mental illness. The apex court says that the death penalty can be commuted on grounds of inordinate, inexplicable delay in deciding the convicts’ mercy pleas.
The death sentences given to two others were commuted after they became mentally ill waiting for execution for many years. The order comes on a case filed by 20 death row convicts, who had approached the Supreme Court for a definitive ruling on the matter.
Among those granted relief on grounds of delay over mercy pleas are four aides of the now-dead forest brigand Veerappan. They had been sentenced to death in January, 2004 while their mercy plea was rejected in February, 2013. The court has also ruled that a death row convict must be hanged within 14 days after dismissal of his mercy petition.
The court has held schizophrenia, insanity and mental illness as valid reasons for commuting death penalty and has further ordered that the convicts be given adequate medical treatment and legal help. Besides, the order also says that solitary confinement of a death row convict and other prisoners is unconstitutional.
The order may impact Devinder Singh Bhullar, sentenced to death by a trial court in 2001 for plotting terror attacks on Punjab SSP Sumedh Singh Saini in 1991 and Youth Congress leader MS Bitta in 1993, in which nine people were killed.