In a strange case, the Supreme Court let 15 persons whose mercy petitions were rejected by the President off the hook by commuting their death sentence into imprisonment for life, citing inordinate delay in the disposal of the mercy petitions and the mental illness of the persons concerned.
13 persons were given this benefit because of inordinate delay in the disposal of their mercy petitions while 2 persons were let off the hook because they were suffering from mental illness. These 15 persons include Rajiv Gandhi's killers, members of the notorious Veerappan Gang and a Sikh terrorist named Bhullar.
The Supreme Court had earlier sentenced all these 15 persons to death for brutal murders and terrorist acts and the persons had filed for mercy petitions before the President of India who had rejected it.
The Supreme Court has now set a precedent that where there is delay on the part of the President or where a person is mentally ill, he should be given 14 days after rejection of the mercy petition by the President and his actual hanging so that he could file a review petition to the Supreme Court against the rejection of his mercy petition by the President and alternately could prepare himself for his departure from this world by praying to God and bidding good-bye to his friends and relatives.
The Supreme Court has taken shelter behind article 21 of the Constitution, which states that ''No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.'' So far, the President's decision on the mercy plea used to be final but a new law is being established by the Supreme Court of India making the latter competent to review an order of the President of India when that order is in consonance with the earlier order of death penalty awarded by the Supreme Court.
Thus Supreme Court is arrogating to itself the right to reject President's order. Does the Supreme Court enjoy that power under the Constitution of India to defy the Presidential order?