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The death sentence can not be carried out in respect of a person who is mentally ill, the Supreme Court was Wednesday told by Devender Pal Singh Bhullar who was given capital punishment for a 1993 blast here which killed nine people. He has sought commutation of his execution to life term on this ground.

An apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya was told this by senior counsel K.T.S. Tulsi appearing for Bhullar who has sought commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment claiming delay of eight years in deciding his mercy petition by the president had left him mentally ill.

Bhullar, a Khalistan Liberation Force militant, claimed that he was suffering from a mental disorder for which he had even undergone treatment at a hospital. He blamed his incarceration in jail for his mental state.

The blast convict was awarded death sentence for his involvement in the bomb blast at the Youth Congress office here.

Bhullar filed the mercy petition Jan 14, 2003 which was rejected by the president May 25.

Tulsi referred to the judgments of American courts to buttress his point that a mentally sick person could not be sent to the gallows.

As Tulsi pointed to an apex court verdict saying that a petitioner could move the court seeking commutation of the death sentence in the event of inordinate delay, the judges drew his attention to a part of judgment which said that no limit could be imposed on the president in taking a decision on a mercy petition.

Tulsi said that this relaxation did not mean that the “government will go into slumber and not decide the mercy petitions decades after decades”.

The senior counsel told the court that even a condemned prisoner had a right to “just, fair, and speedy” justice.

“Laxity of this court is growing. With every decade the centre and the states are getting longer ropes and they think that they can get away with inordinate delays,” Tulsi told the court.

He quoted former chief justice P.N. Bhagwati to say that “constitution is not an outlaw in the walls of the prison”.

The court said that “delay gives a big hope” to the convict on the death row.

“The inordinate delay of eight years in deciding the mercy petition was both dehumanizing and tortuous”, Tulsi told the court.

The court said that long delay gives a hope that a political combination may be formed and you were able to gather the support of a section of the people to push for getting some relief.

Tulsi said that the matter was pending since 2003 and all sorts of political shades had come to power at the centre but none took a different call.

He said that just two days after the apex court issued notice on Bhullar’s petition seeking commutation of the death sentence, that his mercy petition was rejected.

The court allowed senior counsel Ram Jethmalani’s plea for intervention on behalf of four convicts involved in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

The four moved the Madras High Court seeking commutation of death sentence on grounds of delay. Jethmalani told the court that the verdict of the apex court would have a bearing on the case of the four as well.

Tulsi would continue his arguments next week.



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