The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its verdict on the plea by Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted in the 1995 assassination case of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, seeking commutation of his death penalty to life imprisonment.
A bench comprising Justices B R Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol heard submissions of senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the convict, and Additional Solicitor General K M Natraj, on behalf of the Centre, before reserving its judgement.
Rajoana has been in jail for the past 26 years.
Rohatgi said that keeping Rajoana on death row while sitting over his mercy plea for such a long period violated his fundamental right.
His plea for mercy has been pending before the government for over a decade.
On October 11 last year, the top court had said that a three-judge bench would be set up to hear the plea of Rajoana.
Rohatgi had said that his client was in jail for 26 years and he has a substantive case based on the judgements of the apex court that his rights under Article 21 of the Constitution (the right to protection of life and personal liberty) has been violated.
On September 28 last year, the top court had expressed dissatisfaction over the Centre’s failure to take a decision on Rajoana’s plea for his death penalty to be commuted to life imprisonment.
Rohatgi had said Rajoana has been in jail since January 1996 and his mercy petition was filed in March 2012.
He said his client has been on death row since 2007.
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Rajoana has sought commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment on the ground of his long incarceration of 26 years.
The top court had asked the Centre on May 2 last year to decide within two months on the commutation plea filed on behalf of Rajoana.
Later, in terms of a letter of July 27, 2022, circulated by the counsel for the Centre, the matter was adjourned to September 13.
Earlier, the apex court did not consider the submission of the Centre that Rajoana has been on record saying “he has no faith in the Indian judiciary and the Constitution”.
It had said the pendency of appeals of other co-accused in the case will not come in the way of the authorities deciding Rajoana’s mercy plea.
The top court had also questioned the Centre over the delay in sending Rajoana’s mercy petition to the President.
It had asked the government to apprise it as to when the authorities concerned would send the proposal to the President under Article 72 of the Constitution which deals with the powers of the President to grant pardon, suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases.
Rajoana, a former Punjab Police constable, was convicted of involvement in an explosion outside the Punjab civil secretariat that killed Beant Singh and 16 others on August 31, 1995.
A special court sentenced him to death in July 2007.