Final Reprieve for Bhullar (Opinion)
- Devendar Pal Singh Bhullar, who was handed death sentence thrice – in March 22,2002 when Supreme Court upheld the death sentence; June 13, 2011 when the President rejected ‘clemency, and April 12, 2013 when the Supreme Court upheld the president’s order – on being convicted of killing 9 persons & wounding 17 others in a car bomb attack in Delhi in 1993, has now obtained a final reprieve from the Supreme Court.
- The remission was on the grounds of unexplained delay of 8 years in disposing of his mercy petition, and that he suffers from mental illness. Both these grounds figure among the circumstances listed for Commutation by the Supreme Court in Shatrughan Chauhan vs Union of India.
- However, whether any aspect of clemency, or constitutional limitation imposing the irreversible penalty of death exists is yet to be settled. One probable aspect to be included is whether difference of opinion among judges in the appellate court can be a ground for commutation.
- In Bhullar’s case, the death sentence imposed on him by the Designated Court was upheld by the Supreme Court by a majority of two judges to one. The dissenting judge however aquitted him holding that Bhullar could not be convicted solely on the basis of a statement recorded by a police officer. The Bench was divided two-one on the effect of this difference of opinion during the review of his petition, with the majority holding that one dissent could not be a ground to review the verdict.
- So long as death penalty remains on the statute book, doubts over the irreversible harm caused by a mistaken conviction will keep arising and this may serve to fine-tune and humanise the judiciary of the law of death and mercy.
- Death Sentence