Death penalty- 306 out of 437 mercy petitions accepted by Presidents: Law Commission

New Delhi(PTI): Death sentence of 306 convicts has been commuted by successive presidents so far out of total 437 such mercy petitions. This was disclosed by Law Commission, which has given a chart of mercy petitions disposed of by successive Presidents since January 26, 1950 till today in its report released yesterday on death penalty. The analysis of the chart suggests that a death-row convict’s “fate in matters of life and death may not only depend on the ideology and views of the government of the day but also on the personal views and belief systems of the President”, the Commission said.

The report, which recommended abolition of death sentence except in cases of terrorism and waging war against country, said from January 26, 1950 till today, out of a total of 437 mercy pleas, 306 were accepted — death sentence commuted to life in jail — and 131 rejected. It said during 1950-1982, which saw six Presidents, only one mercy petition was rejected as against 262 commutations of death sentence to life imprisonment.

Quoting available records, it said President Rajendra Prasad commuted the death sentences in 180 out of the 181 mercy petitions he decided, rejecting only one.

President S Radhakrishnan commuted the death sentences in all the 57 mercy petitions decided by him. President Zakir Hussain and President V V Giri commuted the death sentence in all the petitions decided by them, while President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and President N Sanjeeva Reddy did not get to deal with any mercy petitions in their tenure. “In contrast to the first phase (1950-1982), between 1982 and 1997, three Presidents rejected, between them, 93 mercy petitions and commuted seven death sentences. President Zail Singh rejected 30 of the 32 mercy petitions he decided, and President R Venkataraman rejected 45 of the 50 mercy petitions decided by him. “Subsequently, President Shankar Dayal Sharma rejected all the 18 mercy petitions put up before him,” the report said.

In what the law panel described as the “third phase” — between 1997 and 2007, two Presidents had kept almost all the mercy petitions received by them from the government of the day pending, and only two mercy petitions were decided during this period. “While President KR Narayanan did not take any decision on any mercy petition (that came up) before him, President APJ Abdul Kalam acted only twice during his tenure resulting in one rejection and another commutation. During their combined tenure of ten years, they put the brakes on the disposal of mercy petitions,” it said.

Later, President Pratibha Patil during her tenure rejected five mercy petitions, and commuted 34 to death sentence. Incumbent Pranab Mukherjee has “thus far rejected 31 of the 33 mercy petitions decided by him”. The Commission said the data on mercy pleas is based on archival research and collected through RTI by Bikram Jeet Batra and others. It also said the official figures on mercy petitions disposed of by Presidents Rajendra Prasad, S Radhakrishnan, Zakir Hussain, V V Giri, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, N Sanjeeva Reddy, Zail Singh, R Venkatraman and Shankar Dayal Sharma are not available and the figures are based on empirical verification from the archives which may not be complete.

The report said while the President, in considering a mercy petition, is constitutionally obligated to not deviate from the advice rendered by the Council of Ministers, “there have been occasions where the President has refrained from taking any decision altogether on the said mercy petition, thus, keeping the matter pending.”

Late A P J Abdul Kalam had supported abolition of capital punishment, saying that as President of India, he felt pain in deciding on such cases as most of them had “social and economic bias”. Kalam had responded to a Law Commission consultation paper on capital punishment and was one of the few people who had supported abolition of death sentence. Most of the over 400 respondents had supported continuing with the provision of death penalty.

In his response to the consultation paper, Kalam had said capital punishment was one of the most difficult tasks for him as President. The report is based on responses to the paper and a day-long consultation held recently.