New Delhi, March 31 :
The Supreme Court Monday commuted the death sentence of 1993 terror convict Devenderpal Singh Bhullar to life imprisonment on the grounds of inordinate delay in deciding his mercy petition and that he suffered from Schizophrenia.
The apex court bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice H.L. Dattu and Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya while commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment referred to the apex court’s Jan 21, 2014 verdict, which said that inordinate, unexplained or unreasonable delay in deciding mercy petition was dehumanizing to death row convict and was a ground for commuting death sentence to life imprisonment.
The court also noted the statement of Attorney General G.E.Vahanvati that there was delay in deciding the mercy petition of Bhullar and in view of the Jan 21, 2014, judgment, the April 12, 2013, judgment no longer holds ground. Having admitted to delay, the centre had left the decision to the court.
The court also took note of the Feb 5, 2014, report of the Delhi-based Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences which said that Bhullar suffered from Schizophrenia, a mental condition.
The court Jan 31, 2014, asked the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences to examine Bhullar and submit its report.
By its April 12, 2013, judgment, the court while rejecting Bhullar’s plea held that the delay in the rejection of a mercy petition of a death row convict by the president was not open to judicial review if the conviction was for a crime that involved the loss of a large number of innocent lives.
The court, while upsetting that judgment, had said: “We are of the view that unexplained delay is one of the grounds for commutation of sentence of death into life imprisonment…The only aspect the courts have to satisfy is that the delay must be unreasonable and unexplained or inordinate at the hands of the executive.”
The court by its judgment had also said that besides delay, insanity/mental illness/schizophrenia could also be the grounds for seeking commuting death sentence to life imprisonment.
The apex court March 12, 2014, dismissed the centre’s plea for review of its Jan 21 order, saying that there was no merit in the review plea by the Centre.
Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung Jan 6, 2014, in his opinion on the mercy petition of Bhullar said: “The question before me is whether in terms of moral principles such a person can be condemned to death. In many ways it would appear as if a child without a mind and in poor health is condemned to death for an incident that he committed when his mind and body were in a completely different state. On principles of human ethics, and natural justice I cannot bring myself to recommend the rejection of the mercy petition of Navneet Kaur”.
The court’s verdict came on the petition by Navneet Kaur — wife of Devenderpal Singh Bhullar — who had moved curative petition in September 2013 challenging the rejection of her and Bhullar’s review petition April 12, 2013.
Navneet Kaur had pressed for her curative petition after the Jan 21, 2014, apex court verdict which had upturned the April 12, 2013, judgment.