New Delhi, India: On Friday, January 31, Supreme Court of India decided to stop Professor Devinderpal Singh Bhullar’s (Prof. Bhullar) execution. The three-bench judge directed the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), where Prof. Bhullar has been treated, to file the medical report within a week on his present mental condition.  Professor Bhullar has been undergoing treatment for mental ailment at IHBAS since 2010.

The bench comprising of R M Lodha, HL Dattu and SJ Mukhopadhya in the order states, “We would examine whether our judgment (pertaining to commutation of death sentence to life term on the ground of delay in deciding the mercy plea) is applicable or not in this case”. The bench further added, “we also want to know his present condition.”

This judgment was made while considering the curative petition, filed by Bhullar’s wife Navneet Kaur on January 28.  Her petition was based on Supreme Courts landmark judgment (January 21) that holds delays in rejection of mercy petitions and mental status of the convict’s valid reasons for commutating death sentence to life imprisonment.  In the landmark judgment, the apex court also accepted that prolonged imprisonment of a convict awaiting execution amounts to cruelty and violates the fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

It is notable, on Wednesday January 29, Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, also wrote a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee seeking clemency for Professor. Bhullar.

In her current petition, Kaur has mentioned 74 grounds, including the eight-year delay in rejecting Bhullar’s mercy plea by the President and his current mental illness. This judgment is also seen as a first step to undo the harm done by the blatant abuse of human rights that have become a common practice in the name of criminal justice system in India.
In 2001, Bhullar was sentenced by a Delhi trial court for plotting terror attacks on Punjab in 1991 and 1993.  His arrest and conviction raised several human rights issues, such as he was arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), a law that contained provisions incompatible with international fair trial standards and gave no access to a lawyer during his initial confession to the police made under pressure which he later retracted.
The apex court on March 26, 2002, upheld his death sentence, though one of the three judges had found him not guilty, saying there was no evidence to convict him.
In December 2002, his review petition was rejected to which he again moved a curative petition, which was again rejected in March 2003. Meanwhile, Bhullar had filed a mercy petition before the President on January 14, 2003. The President, after a lapse of over eight years, dismissed his mercy plea on May 14, 2011.  Thereafter, citing the delay and other human rights grounds, he again moved the ex-court for commutation of the death sentence but his plea was rejected in 2013.

Supreme Court’s decision to hear Bhullar’s curative petition is definitely a positive step in the right direction.  VFF appreciates the transparency and impartiality adopted by the Bench and hope that Indian Judicial system will continue to do so.