Why can’t president find time to decide mercy pleas?

It is absurd to argue that she can't be given a timeframe


Prasanna Mohanty | January 11, 2012

The UPA government seems to revel in keeping the death sentences hanging and this is what is reflected in the affidavit it filed before the apex court on Tuesday to explain the delay in deciding the mercy plea of Khalistani terrorist Devender Pal Singh Bhullar. Bhullar is a convict in the 1993 blast in New Delhi which injured the then Youth Congress leader MS Bitta. His death sentence was confirmed by the apex court in 2003, following which a mercy plea was moved. After eight years, the president finally dismissed it in May 2011 but not before a petition was moved before the apex court seeking an explanation for the delay.

What does the government say to explain it? It says the president has “special powers” under Article 72 of the constitution and that no specific timeframe can be set for the president to decide mercy pleas. The affidavit states that “the powers of the president are discretionary which can’t be taken away by any statutory provision and can’t be altered, modified or interfered with in any manner whatsoever by any statutory provision or authority” and that “the court, therefore, can’t prescribe a time limit for disposal”.

That may be so, but examine this statement against the backdrop of time the president has been taking to decide the petitions. The mercy plea of Bhullar was decided in eight years but that of Afzal Guru (convicted in connection with the 2001 attack on the parliament building), moved in 2004, is still pending. The number of pending cases has gone up to 20.

What, pray, the president is busy with given the fact that she mostly performs a handful of ceremonial tasks a year not to find time to dispose of mercy petitions? And then, isn’t she supposed to act on the advice of the council of ministers? Moreover, the mercy petitions are moved after the apex court has confirmed a death sentence and also, disposed of review or curative petition and so, the president doesn’t need to refer the matter to the apex court or to the legal experts. Assuming that she has various social and family obligations too, wouldn’t it be fair to assume that she should be able to dispose of at least a couple of mercy petitions a year?

Nobody needs to fix a timeframe for the president. The highest constitutional office needs to fix a timeframe of its own for the sake of work ethics, accountability and above all, to ensure justice is done. The constitutional provisions and special powers to the president are not meant to promote procrastination or indecisiveness.



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