President is seized of Balwant S Rajoana's plea for commutation of death penalty: Centre to SC

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New Delhi, Feb 12 (PTI) The Centre Friday told the Supreme Court that President Ram Nath Kovind is seized of the matter pertaining to Balwant S Rajoana's plea seeking commutation of the death penalty awarded to him in former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh's assassination case, and a decision will be taken on it.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde was told by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Centre, that Rajoana had assassinated a former chief minister on the issue of 'Khalistan' -- a demand for separate statehood for Sikhs.

“The process has started and the President will take a decision. This is a case where the convict is accused of assassinating a former CM on the issue of 'Khalistan',” Mehta told the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

He said in the present circumstances, six weeks be granted to the Centre in the matter.

“This is fine that his Excellency, the President, will take a decision on the issue. Can you give the time frame within which the decision would be taken,” the bench, also comprising justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, asked the law officer.

Mehta said he cannot apprise the court about the time to be taken by the President in deciding the issue.

“Of course, you cannot tell us about the President, but you certainly tell us about the government,” the bench said.

The bench allowed Mehta's request and adjourned the matter by six weeks.

The apex court had on January 25 granted the “last chance” to the Centre to decide within two weeks on Rajoana's plea seeking commutation of death penalty in the case.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Rajoana, had told the apex court that 'this man is in jail for over 25 years and his mercy plea has been pending for the last nine years'.

Rajoana, a former Punjab Police constable, was convicted for his involvement in an explosion outside the Punjab civil secretariat that killed Beant Singh and 16 others in 1995.

The top court had on January 8 asked the Centre to take a decision before January 26 on Rajoana's plea for commutation of his death penalty in the case.

It had said that January 26 is a good day and it will be appropriate if the government takes a decision before that.

Rajoana's counsel had earlier argued that his client's mercy petition is pending since 2012 and the top court has held that the death sentence of a person, if delayed for over eight years, can be commuted.

The apex court had on December 4 last year questioned the Centre over delay in sending to the President the proposal for commuting Rajoana's death sentence.

It had asked the Centre to apprise it as to when the authority would send the proposal in this regard to the President under Article 72 of the Constitution.

The Article deals with power of the President to grant pardon, suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases.

The apex court had noted that a letter was sent from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to the Punjab chief secretary on September 7 last year intimating that a proposal would be sent to the President to commute Rajoana's death sentence.

His plea has sought direction for expeditious disposal of the MHA proposal. PTI SJK ABA RKS RKS