New Delhi: The assassins of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi Thursday urged the Supreme Court to commute their death sentence to life imprisonment due to the inordinate delay in the president deciding their mercy petition.
Taking a bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh through the detailed list of dates from their trial, award of death sentence including its confirmation by the apex court and the subsequent rejection of their mercy petition, senior counsel Ram Jethmalani said the delay of five years and eight months in deciding V. Sriharan alias Murugan’s mercy petition was inordinate enough to commute his death sentence to life imprisonment.
“I have no argument to make except to point out to inordinate delay in deciding mercy plea of V. Sriharan alias Murugan,” he said, adding that normally after filing the mercy petition, the death row convict rests it there, but in Murugan’s case, he kept on sending reminders to know the fate of his plea.
Jethmalani also referred to apex court’s Jan 21 verdict holding inordinate, unreasonable and unexplained delay in deciding the mercy petition and insanity were grounds for the courts to consider plea for commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment.
In the verdict, the court had said it was of the view that unexplained delay is one of the grounds for commutation of sentence of death into life imprisonment and the said supervening circumstance is applicable to all types of cases including the offences under anti-terror laws.
“The only aspect the courts have to satisfy is that thedelaymust be unreasonable and unexplained or inordinate at the hands of the executive.”
Another senior counsel Mohit U. Chaudhary, appearing for other two death row convicts Perarivalan and Santhan, told the court that there was no application of mind in deciding the mercy petitions.
“How do they decide the mercy petitions of others and not ours although we have sought it first. Why do they delay?” he asked, questioning the procedure in deciding the mercy petitions.
“It is not the case where mercy pleas were not decided. Mercy pleas filed after us were decided before us. There was no application of mind. The point is how long they can be kept in solitary confinement,” Chaudhary said.
At this, Chief Justice Sathasivam observed: “You of course are not challenging death (sentence on merits). That they deserve death sentence. The question is how long they await a decision by the constitutional authorities on execution while in solitary confinement.”
Additional Solicitor General Siddharth Luthra drew the attention of the court to a matter pending before another bench where the commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment has been challenged.
Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins were convicted by a TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act) court in January 1998 and were sentenced to death. Their death sentence was confirmed by the apex court May 11, 1999. In August 2012, their mercy petitions were rejected and as the date of their execution was fixed, the Madras High Court intervened and stayed the execution of their death sentence.
Subsequently on a plea by MDMK leader Vaiko, the matter before the Madras High Court was transferred to the Supreme Court.
The matter will come up for hearing on Feb 4 when Attorney General G.E.Vahanvati would address the court on the plea by Murugan, Perarivalan and Santhan.