Lifting the veil on mercy petitions
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The Union Ministry of Home Affairs recommendation to President Pranab Mukherjee to reject the mercy petition filed by Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist of 26/11 attacks, has once again brought to the fore the opaque manner in which such pleas are dealt with. And, since the MHA recommendation comes at a time when the electoral process in on in Gujarat, one may be forgiven for believing that the recommendation is connected to politics too — the Congress could cite Kasab to blunt the BJP charge of being soft on terror.
Consider this: among the persons that previous president Pratibha Patil spared from being hanged were Piara Singh, Sarabjit Singh, Gurdev Singh and Satnam Singh, involved in killing 17 members of the same family at a marriage function. She also accepted the mercy petitions of Govindasamy, who had been sentenced to death for murdering five of his relatives in their sleep, and Dharmender Singh and Narendra Yadav, who in 1994 had killed an entire family of five, including a 15-year-old girl, whom Yadav had earlier tried to rape, and her 10-year-old brother, whom the accused burnt alive.
On the other hand, Patil rejected the mercy petitions of terrorist Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, who had been awarded the death penalty in a 1993 car bombing case in New Delhi, as well as Mahendra Nath Das of Assam, who had been held guilty of killing a person in April 1996 while on bail in another murder case.
The question that begs an answer is: how did the president, acting on the advice of the MHA, decide that the killing of five persons, including two minors, one of whom was burnt alive, deserves mercy while a man who killed two should be hanged? Also, shouldn't there be a systematic way of deciding mercy petitions — maybe chronologically? There have also been instances of the MHA changing its recommendation — from rejecting the mercy petition to favouring acceptance. There are those who argue that once the courts have taken a call, matters of law should not be left to the discretion of a few.
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