The South Asian Times

21 October 2018 09:32 AM

Mercy pleas decided on home minister's advice: President's office

New Delhi : President Pratibha Patil's Office Monday refuted reports that she had acted in haste and had not applied her mind in disposing of mercy petitions of those sentenced to death, saying all the pleas were settled on the advice of Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

In a press statement, Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesperson Archana Datta termed as "unwarranted" and "factually incorrect and misleading" reports in a section of media critical of the president's role in disposing of mercy petitions. She said these stemmed from a lack of appreciation of constitutional provisions and related court judgments.

The reports claimed Patil, whose term will end next month, had scored a new record by commuting death sentences of 35 convicts to life imprisonment, and these included those held guilty of mass murder, kidnapping, rape and killing of children.

Dutta said Article 72 of the Constitution confers on the president the power to grant clemency, but the president is not supposed to act on her own judgment in exercise of these powers but on the aid and advice of the government, which is binding on head of the state, as authoritatively laid down by the Supreme Court.

"Thus, the power to pardon is a part of the constitutional scheme and not a private act of grace on the part of the president. When the president is expected to work as part of the constitutional scheme, the word, president, is an abbreviation for the central government," it said.

Allegations that President Patil acted in haste or played to the gallery while handling mercy pleas were "misconstrued," said Dutta.

She said Article 72 does not contain any limitation on time for the exercise of the power but the Supreme Court had observed that delays in disposal of mercy petitions be minimised.

The presidential spokesman said that the matter was discussed in parliament in February 2011 as several mercy petition cases had remained undecided for over a decade and the government had made its intent clear to expedite decisions on them.

"The allegation of non-application of mind in the disposal of mercy petitions is factually incorrect and misleading. The president has disposed clemency petitions only after due examination on receipt of the aid and advice of the home minister," she said.

According to Dutta, all the 23 backlog cases were recalled and re-visited by the present home minister (Chidmabaram) and fresh advice tendered for the president's consideration.

In all "backlog and fresh cases," the home minister had examined mitigating and extenuating circumstances and spelt out specific reasons substantiating his advice, she said.

"In turn, the president took well considered decisions after having been fully satisfied that the government has tendered its aid and advice, properly and constitutionally."

On the allegations that many brutal criminals have been shown mercy, the statement said all death convicts seeking mercy are those who have committed ghastly and heinous crimes of the "rarest of the rare" category and the constitution confers on them the right to seek clemency.

"When clemency is granted, the courts have held that it does not wipe out the offence or disaffirm the judicial verdict. By the exercise of the power of pardon, the president does not amend, modify or substitute the judicial decisions. On receiving clemency, the death sentence gets commuted to imprisonment for the remainder of their natural lives," it said.

The statement stressed the president was discharging a constitutional obligation to reject or accept a mercy petition on the government's advice and not "doling out generosity or acting to the contrary".

Referring to the issue of death penalty, the statement said it was an emotive issue on which there is an ongoing debate.

"So long death sentence remains a part of our statutes and seeking of clemency by a condemned prisoner or on his behalf is constitutionally ordained, the president is duty bound to discharge this obligation. The uncharitable comment on the president's actions to fulfil constitutional obligations to dispose of mercy petitions is unwarranted," the statement said.


Update: 27 June, 2012