Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court:

“The mercy petition is the last hope of a person on death row. Every dawn will give rise to a new hope that his mercy petition may be accepted. By night fall this hope also dies.” – Deepak Gupta, J

The 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, Deepak Gupta and Indira Banerjee, JJ commuted the death sentence of a man who was convicted for killing his wife and 5 children due to the the un­explained delay of 4 years in forwarding the mercy petition by the State of Madhya Pradesh leading to delay of almost 5 years in deciding the mercy petition.

The Court said that it has repeatedly held that in cases where death sentence has to be executed the same should be done as early as possible and if mercy petitions are not forwarded for 4 years and no explanation is submitted, it cannot but hold that the delay is inordinate and un­explained. The Court noticed:

“there not only was there a long, inordinate and un­explained delay on the part of the State of Madhya Pradesh but to make matters worse, the State of Madhya Pradesh has not even cared to file any counter affidavit in the Writ Petition even though notice was issued 4 years back on 18.11.2014 and service was effected within a month of issuance of notice.”

The Court also took note of the fact that the petitioner has now been behind bars for almost about 14 years as he was convicted on April 24, 2006. It, hence, held that regardless of the brutal nature of crime this is not a fit case where death sentence should be executed and it commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment. However, keeping in view the nature of crime and the fact that 6 innocent lives were lost, the bench directed that life imprisonment in this case shall mean the entire remaining life of the petitioner and he shall not be released till his death. [Jagdish v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 250, decided on 21.02.2019]

High Courts

Allahabad high Court: While holding “Surendra Koli” (Convict) guilty of committing murder of “Rimpa Haldar”, the division bench of D.Y. Chandrachud C.J. and P.K.S Baghel J. allowed the petition and held that the execution of the sentence of death on the convict would amount to infringement of his right to life under Article 21 of the COI due to the unwarranted delay caused in the disposal of the mercy petition. The Court also observed that a prolonged delay in the execution of the sentence of death has dehumanizing effect on the convict and as a well settled principle of our constitutional jurisprudence is regarded as a deprivation of the right to life itself.

The Court in the instant case discussed the issue of  avoidable delay by the authorities concerned in disposing the mercy petitions under Article 72 or Article 161 of the COI and referred series of Supreme Court cases including Shatrughan Chauhan v. Union of India (2014) 3 SCC 1, V. Sriharan v. Union of India (2014) 4 SCC 242, Navneet kaur v. Union of India (2014) 7 SCC 264, which held that (i) inordinate delay in the disposal of mercy petitions would render the process of execution of the death sentence arbitrary (ii) convict who complains of avoidable delay in the execution of the death sentence is not required to produce evidence of suffering caused on account of delay (iii) considerations for commutation of the death such as gravity of the crime or extraordinary cruelty would not be relevant and finally observed that delay in rejection of mercy petition was avoidable, prolonged and unnecessary.

The Court while considering whether convict is responsible for the delay further observed that convict is not responsible for the delay of three and half years which authorities concerned took in disposal of mercy petition under Articles 72 and 161 of the COI and therefore entitles him for claiming relief under the head of delay. Peoples’ Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) v. Union of India, , decided on 28.01.2015