Published: 24th June 2018
Should we damn mercy petitions? The debate is still on!
There are lots of issues revolving around presidential pardon or mercy petition
There has been a debate on whether mercy petitions or presidential pardon should be abolished. The debate is likely to be revived following a report in the media recently. Before we come to the debate, the facts as reported.
President Kovind has rejected his first mercy petition of a death-row convict who had burned seven members of a family alive, including five children, over a case of buffalo theft. The case pertains to the gruesome killing of Vijendra Mahto and six of his family members by Jagat Rai in Bihar’s Vaishali district in 2006. Mahto had lodged a case of theft of his buffalo in September 2005 in which Jagat Rai, Wazir Rai, and Ajay Rai were named as the accused.
The accused (now convicts) were pressuring Mahto to withdraw the case. Rai had set on fire Mahto’s house that resulted in the death of the latter’s wife and five children. Mahto, who had sustained serious burn injuries then, died a few months later. After being convicted for the crime and being awarded the death penalty by the local court, the High Court and the Supreme Court too gave their nod for the hanging in 2013. Rai’s mercy plea was then sent to the President’s secretariat.
The office of the president had sought the Home Ministry’s views which gave its recommendation on July 12, 2017. The mercy petition (of Mahto) was rejected by the President on April 23, 2018, according to a Rashtrapati Bhavan communiqué. (Please note the timelines – July 2017 and April 2018 in a life and death matter).
Under Article 72 of the Constitution, the President has the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence where the sentence is of death.
Hanging is no more by destiny. A hierarchy of judges have to pass the death sentence, confirm it and review it again if appealed. That is what happened in the case of Mohammed Afzal Guru who attacked the parliament on December 13, 2001. The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence and he was hanged. But a mercy petition, filed by his wife and mother, reportedly against his wishes, saw his execution being put off two weeks before it was scheduled. The then President Abdul Kalam, to whom the petition was addressed, referred the matter to Ministry of Home Affairs, which, in turn, referred it to the Delhi Government for its comments.
There are lots of issues revolving around presidential pardon or mercy petition. Discerning readers would have observed that the presidential pardon is essentially the Home Ministry’s pardon. How are these babus better qualified than the whole hierarchy of the judicial system? The matter is not so simple. Whether the judiciary is bribed or not, they may stand by its fraternity going all the way up to the apex.