The Supreme Court on Friday urged the Centre to decide on an eight-year old mercy plea of a death row convict in two weeks. The convict, Balwant Singh Rajoana, has been in jail for over 25 years after being convicted for triggering a bomb blast that killed former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh in August 1995.
Rajoana had approached the Supreme Court last year, complaining about the delay on part of the Central government to process his mercy petition, filed on March 25, 2012 with the President of India. The Supreme Court on December 4 enquired about the delay with the Centre and came to know that the proposal for his commutation was yet to be processed.
The ministry of home affairs reasoned that since other co-accused involved in the crime with Rajoana had filed appeals, which were pending before the apex court, a decision on Rajoana’s mercy petition was put on hold. Rajoana had not filed any appeal challenging his death sentence before the apex court.
On Friday, additional solicitor general (ASG) KM Nataraj told a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde that the file has been processed by the home ministry. “We have processed the file from our end. It has been sent to the competent authority to take a decision.”
The bench, also comprising justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, asked the law officer, “Give him (Rajoana) some relief before January 26. It is a good day to act. If possible, pass an order before January 25.” Hopeful of a positive outcome, the bench posted the matter for hearing on January 25.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for Rajoana said, “The delay of eight years in processing the mercy petition is fatal. This is enough for commutation of death sentence to life as decided by the Supreme Court in Shatrughan Chauhan case in 2014.” In this judgment given by a Constitution bench, undue, inordinate delay in deciding mercy petitions was held to be a ground to commute punishment of death row convicts.
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Rajoana was sentenced to death on July 27, 2007, when the trial court found him and his associate Jagtar Singh Hawara guilty of killing the former chief minister by triggering a bomb blast at Punjab and Haryana Civil Secretariat on August 31, 1995. Later, on October 12, 2010, the Punjab and Haryana high court confirmed the death penalty on Rajoana, while sparing Hawara from the guillotine.
In his petition filed through advocate Rupesh Kumar, Rajoana informed the court that on September 27, 2019, the centre wrote a letter to Punjab chief secretary where it said that the mercy plea of Rajoana is to be processed under Article 72 of the Constitution coinciding with the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev. When the same was not done, Rajoana knocked the doors of the apex court to remind the Centre of its resolve.