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Including Afzal Guru, Pranab Mukherjee to decide 11 mercy petitions
Acting swiftly, outgoing president Pratibha Patil disposed off 39 mercy petition cases but that earned her the ire of a section of media that called her actions as 'taken in haste'. Coming to her rescue, however, Rashtrapathi Bhavan, in a reply to an RTI application, has called such reports as incorrect and misleading.

RESPONDING TO various media reports that were critical of outgoing president Pratibha Patil's role in the disposal of mercy petitions, Rashtrapati Bhavan, in a terse reply, has equalled it with 'a queer pitch created as though many brutal criminals have been shown mercy and released'.

“To say that President acted in haste or played to the gallery while handling mercy petitions is misconstrued,” it said, replying to an RTI application of Subhash Agrawal, who had sought information on mercy petitions decided by Pratibha Patil during her tenure.

Earlier some media reports had gone to the extent of saying that the president acted in haste while deciding the mercy petitions. Pertinent to mention here is the fact that Patil decided record 39 petitions involving 21 cases from November 2009 to June 2012, according to Indian Express.

Calling these reports factually incorrect and misleading, the president's office said that the clemency petitions were disposed only after due examination on receipt of aid and advice of the Home Minister. “All the 23 backlog cases pertaining to the terms of the former Presidents were recalled and re-visited by the present Home Minister and fresh advice tendered for due consideration of the President,” the RTI reply read, adding, “In all these backlog and fresh cases, the Home Minister has examined the mitigating and extenuating circumstances and spelt out specific reasons substantiating his considered advice. In turn, the President, took well considered decisions after having been fully satisfied that the Government has tendered its aid and advice, properly and constitutionally.”

The reply informed that the government made its intentions clear to expedite the decisions on mercy petitions as several petition cases remained undecided for over a decade. The issue had also earned lot of criticism to the government from civil society groups as well who castigated the president's office for delaying the process without 'any reason'.

Patil earned the title of 'merciful president' in a section of English press after she, earlier this month granted pardon to four people – including Bandu Baburao Tidke from Karnataka, who as a swami of Sadashiva Appana Math, Bagalkot, raped and murdered a 16-year-old schoolgirl after murdering her. Another decision that caught attention was the grant of clemency to Sushil Murmu, who was convicted for giving 'bali' (sacrifice) of a 9-year-old boy in Jharkhand for his own prosperity – a practice we have read about in novels and seen in movies since our childhood. While reading the sentence, the Supreme Court had called Murmu' crime 'as illustrative and most exemplary case to be treated as the 'rarest of rare cases' in which death is and should be the rule, with no exception whatsoever."

Responding to this argument, the Rashtrapathi Bhawan reply informed that by the exercise of the power of pardon, the President doesn't amend, modify or substitute the judicial decisions. “It is common knowledge that all death convicts seeking mercy are those who have committed ghastly and heinous crimes of the "rarest of the rare" category,” the reply read.

Trying to make it clear that such actions of Patil aren't a result of her mercifulness, the reply said: “When the President, on the aid and advice of the government takes a reasoned decision to reject or accept the mercy petition, the President is discharging a constitutional obligation and not doling out generosity or acting to the contrary.”

As the president-elect Pranab Mukherjee takes oath tomorrow (Wednesday), the file of mercy petitions, marred by procastrination for decades would be comparatively lighter in weight, courtesy the actions of his predecessor. Still, he has got 11 cases to decide – including the high-profile case of Parliament attack convict Mohammad Afzal Guru. Other 10 cases include: Gurmeet Singh, Dharampal (Haryana), Suresh and Ramji (UP), Simon, Gnanprakash, Madaiah and Bilavandra (Karnataka), Praveen Kumar (Karnataka), Saibana Nigappa Natikar (Karnataka), Jafar Ali (UP), Sonia, Sanjeev (Haryana), Sundar Singh (Uttarakhand) and Atbir (Delhi).

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