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Has CJI de facto abolished death penalty? In swift 8-page order Sathasivam follows own precedent, commutes Bhullar noose to life

A Supreme Court bench of CJI P Sathasivam, and Justices RM Lodha, HL Dattu and Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya, commuted the death penalty of 1993 Delhi bomb blast convict Devender Pal Singh Bhullar to life imprisonment, citing its earlier Shatrughan Chauhan decision.

The bench said that because of the “unexplained/inordinate delay” of eight years in disposing of his mercy petition and Bhullar’s “insanity”, they allowed the curative petition to commute his sentence to life in prison.

According to medical evidence, Bhullar was suffering from severe depression with psychotic features.

Sathasivam had also presided over the bench in the Shatrughan case in January 2014 and in the commutation of the death penalty of the Rajiv Gandhi assassins in February, and said today in the judgment:

8) Very recently, a three-Judge Bench of this Court, in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 55 of 2013 Etc., titled Shatrughan Chauhan & Anr. vs. Union of India & Ors., 2014 (1) SCALE 437, by order dated 21.01.2014, commuted the sentence of death imposed on the petitioners therein to imprisonment for life which has a crucial bearing for deciding the petition at hand. In the aforesaid verdict, this Court validated the established principle and held that unexplained/unreasonable/inordinate delay in disposal of mercy petition is one of the supervening circumstances for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment [...]

13) The three-Judge Bench in Shatrughan Chauhan (supra) held that insanity/mental illness/schizophrenia is also one of the  supervening circumstances for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment. By applying the principle enunciated in Shatrughan Chauhan (supra), the accused cannot be executed with the said health condition.

14) In the light of the above discussion and also in view of the ratio laid down in Shatrughan Chauhan (supra), we deem it fit to commute the death sentence imposed on Devender Pal Singh Bhullar into life imprisonment both on the ground of  unexplained/inordinate delay of 8 years in disposal of mercy petition and on the ground of insanity. To this extent, the Curative Petition stands allowed.

Read today's judgment

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