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SC gives last chance to govt to decide on Rajoana’s plea

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New Delhi, Jan 25 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Monday gave a last chance to the Centre to take a decision on mercy pleas filed on behalf of Balwant Singh Rajoana who was awarded the death penalty for the 1995 assassination of then Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde that the government is examining the matter and it would not be prudent to decide on Rajoana’s mercy plea, as it could have some repercussions given the present situation. Mehta sought three weeks’ time in the matter.

The Chief Justice said, “What are you doing Mr Mehta? Why three weeks? We told you to decide it before January 26, today is January 25.”

Mehta insisted on three weeks’ time in the matter. The Chief Justice replied that the court is giving last chance to the Centre in the matter. “Two weeks”, said the Chief Justice.

A bunch of mercy pleas have been filed on behalf of Balwant Singh Rajoana, who was given death sentence for assassination of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. Rajoana contends he has been on death row for 10 years, which is sufficient to reduce sentence to life term.

On January 8, the top court had told Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj, representing the Centre, that the govermment should take a decision on mercy pleas seeking commutation of death penalty before January 26. “It is a good date”, said the Chief Justice.

On December 4, the Supreme Court had said that after the Centre has decided to recommend presidential pardon for a convict on death row, then the pendency of the appeals of the co-accused in the apex court cannot become a ground to delay the process.

The top court had asked Centre when will it send the proposal to the President, under Article 72 of the Constitution, for commutation of death sentence of Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted in the 1995 assassination case of then Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh.

This article deals with the power of President to grant pardon, suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases. The bench noted that on September 7 last year, a letter was sent from the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Punjab chief secretary intimating that a proposal would be sent to the President to commute Rajoana’s death sentence.

The Chief Justice had cited this letter by MHA to Punjab government, which said on the occasion of the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, release of some prisoners was proposed, which included Rajoana. Additional Solicitor General Nataraj, representing the Centre, said before the bench that the proposal was not sent to the President since appeal of other co-accused in the case is pending.

The bench had said “appeal pending by other co accused has no relevance to decision by HM to commute death sentence of some convicts taken to commemorate 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.”

–IANS

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