The Supreme Court Friday stayed the execution of the death sentence of 1993 Delhi bomb blast convict Devender Pal Singh Bhullar and issued notice to the Centre on his petition seeking commuting of his death sentence to life imprisonment.
The plea for commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment is on the grounds of inordinate delay by the president in deciding his mercy plea and the state of his mental health.
The apex court bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice H.L. Dattu and Justice Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya, while staying the execution of Bhullar’s death sentence, also issued notice to the Delhi government.
The court asked Delhi-based Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences to examine Bhullar and submit a report on his state of mental health within a week.
At the outset of the hearing, the judges inquired if they could hear the grounds raised by Bhullar for revisiting the verdict on his death sentence in a curative petition.
The court said curative petition could only be made if there was a miscarriage of justice or direct or indirect bias in the verdict sought to be re-looked.
The court said that in this situation, a member of Bhullar’s family should file an independent petition.
Bhullar was represented in the case by senior counsel K.T.S. Tulsi.
Bhullar’s curative petition came for hearing Friday as Chief Justice Sathasivam, Justice Lodha, Justice Dattu and Justice Mukhopadhaya, after considering it in the chamber Jan 28, decided to hear it in the open court Jan 31.
Chief Justice Sathasivam had Jan 24 directed the hearing of Bhullar’s plea Jan 28 after senior counsel Tulsi had told the court that the curative petition was pending since September 2013.
Tulsi had also told the court that the April 12, 2013, order declining commutation of Bhullar’s death sentence to life imprisonment on the grounds that he was convicted under the terror law doesn’t hold in the light of a recent three-judge verdict.
The bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh Jan 21, had ruled that delay in deciding the mercy petition by the president and mental illness of death row convict are grounds for commuting death sentence to life imprisonment.
The court by its Jan 21 verdict had held that insanity/mental illness/schizophrenia could be the grounds for seeking commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment.
The three-judge bench had also said that while commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment on grounds of inordinate delay in deciding the mercy petition by the president, the court’s decision would not be coloured by the consideration whether the person on death row was convicted under the provision of Indian Penal Code or the terror law TADA.
The court, while upsetting the earlier judgment of April 12, 2013, in respect of Bhullar, had said: “We are 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 TADA. The only aspect the courts have to satisfy is that the delay must be unreasonable and unexplained or inordinate at the hands of the executive.”
The apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi (since retired) and Justice Mukhopadhaya by its April 12, 2013, verdict while rejecting Bhullar’s plea for commuting his death sentence into life imprisonment had said: “If the enormity of the crime is such that a large number of innocent people are killed without rhyme or reason, the exercise of power by the President or the Governor, as the case may be, not to entertain the prayer for mercy in such cases cannot be characterized as arbitrary or unreasonable and the Court cannot exercise power of judicial review only on the ground of undue delay.”
In the case of Bhullar it was repeatedly contended that not only was there delay in deciding his mercy petition but he was also mentally ill undergoing treatment in a mental hospital.
It has also been said that the apex court verdict confirming his death sentence was a split verdict confirming his death sentence.
Bhullar was given capital punishment for the 1993 blast at the Youth Congress office, a stone’s throw from Parliament House in Delhi, which left nine people dead.
The attack was targeted against then Youth Congress leader M.S. Bitta.
The court has directed the listing of Bhullar’s curative plea Feb 19.