New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its verdict on a plea seeking commutation of death sentence of Balwant Singh Rajoana, an accused in former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh murder case, on the ground that the Centre had failed to decide on his mercy plea for a long time.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice B R Gavai reserved the order after hearing senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing Rajoana, and Additional Solicitor General (ASG) for the Centre K M Nataraj. Rohatgi contended that keeping Rajoana on death row, who has been on mercy plea for so long, is a violation of his fundamental rights.

Rajoana, an accused in the 1995 beant Singh murder case, has been in jail for 25 years awaiting execution. The former Punjab chief minister and 16 others were killed in a blast outside the Civil Secretariat in Chandigarh in 1995.

He was sentenced to death by a special court in 2007. His mercy plea has been pending for more than eight years. The Home Ministry had said the mercy plea cannot be entertained as it was filed by any other institution and not by Rajoana and it cannot be decided unless the appeals of other convicts are decided by the Supreme Court.

Interestingly, Rajoana has not challenged his sentence. The bench, however, said the authorities have sent several official letters to Rajoana.

The Centre had earlier countered the petitioner’s contention that a final decision was taken in 2019 to commute his death sentence.

The apex court, which has been repeatedly asking the Centre to clarify its stand on Rajoana’s mercy plea, had earlier pointed out that the convict has filed a petition under Section 32, which can be taken as a support to the mercy plea.

A bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India U U Lalit had told the Centre in September last year, “We cannot force you to take a decision… But you have to make a decision. ”

Maintaining that the pardon granted by the President to the death row convict had no bearing on the pendency of appeals by the co-accused, the apex court had earlier questioned the Centre for the delay in sending a proposal to the President to commute Rajoana’s death sentence.

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