NEW DELHI: Adopting an unhurried approach towards Balwant Singh Rajoana, who was sentenced to death by a trial court in 2007 in the case relating to then Punjab chief minister Beant Singh’s killing in 1995, the Centre told the Supreme Court that “life is precious and death is irreversible”.
Rajoana, who has not appealed against the Punjab and Haryana HC’s decision upholding his conviction and sentence in 2010, has moved the SC seeking commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment, saying he had been in prison for the last 25 years and was living under the shadow of death since 2007.
Rajoana and Jagtar Singh Hawara were awarded death sentence by the trial court for the bomb blast on August 31, 1995, which killed Beant Singh and 16 others outside the Punjab and Haryana civil secretariat. However, the HC had commuted Hawara’s death sentence to life imprisonment. In 2011, the CBI appealed against the HC order and sought restoration of death sentence for Hawara, who filed an appeal in the SC in 2013 challenging the HC order upholding his conviction in the case. Both the appeals were tagged on July 19, 2013. However, the last time the CBI appeal came up for hearing was on November 20, 2015, when the SC had agreed to return the case records to the additional district and sessions judge, Chandigarh, for facilitating trial of one Jagtar Singh Tara. Since then, the appeals have been in cold storage.
Responding to Rajoana’s plea for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment, the home ministry said since the appeal of Hawara, a co-accused of Rajoana, was pending consideration of the SC along with that of the CBI, the government has decided to await the outcome of the appeals.
“Case of one death convict is not de-linked from the other and simultaneous execution of the death sentence is postponed till all convicts have exhausted all remedies. Life is precious and death is irreversible… It was decided to wait for the decision of the SC in the CBI appeal challenging commutation of death sentence of Hawara to life imprisonment by the Punjab and Haryana HC and Hawara’s appeal challenging the conviction. The decision on the mercy petition in respect of Rajoana was kept pending,” it said.
“Mercy petitions in respect of Rajoana will be processed after the SC delivers judgment in the appeals,” it added.
As many as 14 petitions seeking mercy for Rajoana were filed in 2012 before the President, including those by then Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. Four petitions, including those by Rajiv Gandhi Youth Federation and Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena, were filed opposing mercy to Rajoana. The home ministry said, “On the occasion of commemoration of 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the mercy petitions received on behalf of Rajoana were examined. However, the competent authority decided that the case may be processed after the decision of the SC in the case of Hawara.”
On Tuesday, Rajoana’s counsel Mukul Rohatgi told a bench of CJI S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian that since his client had been in jail for 25 years, it was covered under the earlier rulings of the SC for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment, more so since he has been on death row for the last 13 years. The SC adjourned the hearing for two weeks.
The Law Commission of India in its 262nd report had said, “Death penalty does not serve the penological goal of deterrence any more than life imprisonment. Life imprisonment under Indian law means imprisonment for the whole life subject to just remissions which, in many states in serious cases, are granted only after many years of imprisonment.” The commission, in its report in 2017, had said the time had come for India to move towards abolition of death penalty