New Delhi, India: On Wednesday, February 26, India’s Central Government assured Supreme Court of India that death sentence of Professor Devinderpal Singh Bhullar (Prof. Bhullar) will not be executed till it takes a decision on his current mercy plea based on medical grounds. Prof.Bhullar has been undergoing treatment for mental ailment at Institute of Human Behavior and Allied Sciences (IHBAS) since 2010.

A four-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) P Sathasivam, is hearing the curative petition filed by Bhullar’s wife Navneet Kaur before Supreme Court to  re-consider their decision regarding Prof. Bhullar’s death penalty. Anguish over the delay in framing its response, CJI asked the central government to take a decision on the mercy plea quickly as “delay of every day is a torture for the convict”.

On January 6, Najeeb Jung, Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor (LG) submitted his report to central government, and recommended commutation of Prof. Bhullar’s death sentence.  The LG in his report concluded that, “On principles of human ethics and natural justice, I cannot bring myself to recommend the rejection of the mercy petition of Navneet Kaur (Bhullar’s wife) and my comments may kindly be forwarded to the President of India for the final disposal in the matter.”

Responding to the need of speedy inquiry of the plea, the home ministry informed the Supreme Court that they would consider the Lieutenant Governor’s views, and will send his recommendations to the President. The court gave the center two weeks time to convey the final decision on the matter, and posted the case for hearing on March 10.

Prof. Bhullar’s curative petition is in the light of apex court’s January 21verdict, holding inordinate and inexplicable delay by the government in deciding mercy plea of death row convicts can be a ground for commuting their death sentence to life imprisonment.  In this landmark judgment, Supreme Court judges also said that mental illness such as schizophrenia and the use of solitary confinement could make a convict eligible for a reduced sentence.

The current plea for commutation of Bhullar’s death sentence mentions 74 grounds, including the eight-year delay in rejecting his mercy plea by the President and his current mental illness.

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. He applied to the President for clemency in January 2003; his request was rejected eight years later. Last year, a Supreme Court bench also rejected his plea for mercy, after which he filed another petition for a review, which was also rejected in 2013.

It is notable, that the execution of those suffering from mental illness is clearly prohibited by International law. According to UN Commission on Human Rights, 2000,  “all states that maintain the death penalty, not to impose it on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder; not to execute any such persons”

VFF appreciates the firm stand taken by the Kejriwal government in recommending Lt. Governor and Supreme Court to commute Prof. Bhullar’s death sentence due to his mental condition. We also appreciate Supreme Courts pro-active approach in compelling Home Ministry to convey the final decision on Bhullar’s plea, and respecting international human rights law.

Issued by

Jaspreet Kaur

Legal Fellow

Voices For Freedom (VFF)