Press release put out on the evening of 16 February by the PEOPLE’S UNION FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES
CHENNAI: The PUCL strongly condemns the rejection by the President of India of the commutation petitions of Simon, Meesakara Mathayan, Bilavendran and Gnanaprakasam. Equally condemnable is the action of the Prison Authorities of Belgaum Central Prison, Karnataka who in the morning of 13.2.2013 merely intimated orally to the convicts of the rejection of their mercy petitions without giving them the written orders of rejection. In sharp contrast, signed acknowledgements of receipt have been obtained from all 4 convicts!
PUCL is extremely concerned at the repeat pattern of the deliberate and surreptitious manner in which rejection of commutation petitions has been communicated in all the 4 cases which the present President has rejected – viz., Kasab, Afzal Guru, Saibanna and the current 4 convicts. In Afzal Guru’s case the Union Home Minister is on record to state that they did not intimate immediately to the wife of Afzal so as to prevent them from approaching the High or Supreme Court. Even in Saibanna’s case the rejection was only orally intimated but acknowledgement obtained from the prisoner. It is very clear that the Union Government and the State Governments all seem to be acting in a manner totally against the spirit of the Indian Constitution and rule of law by consciously and deliberately sabotaging and subverting established procedures and has to be strongly condemned as unbecoming of constitutional authorities.
The rejection by the President of India of the commutation petitions in the case of these 4 convicts seems to be based on a wholly unacceptable, erroneous and unwarranted appreciation of the powers of commutation provided by Article 72 of the Indian Constitution. The commutation or `pardoning’ power of President of India, is better described as `unfettered power’ not subject to any constitutional or judicial restraints.
The power of the President under Art. 72 in the nature of a `constitutional and executive’ power as contrasted to the Courts Statutory and judicial powers, and is actually in the nature of `Residual Sovereign Power’ untrammeled by the decision of the courts, including the Supreme Court; the President is thus empowered to go beyond the evidence on record and come to a different conclusion than that recorded by the Court.
It is most unfortunate that the President, advised by the cabinet, seem to be under the false impression that what the Supreme Court has said is the final word beyond which the executive cannot go. There is no other way to understand the string of Presidential rejections of commutation petitions coming in rapid fashion. At the current rate of rejections India can look forward to a continuous string of serial hangings in this year itself.
The rejection by the President of the commutation petitions of these 4 convicts is wholly unconstitutional, unfair and arbitrary. The President, advised by the Council of Ministers, seem to have missed the point that the Designated TADA Court did not feel compelled to impose death penalty because “it is not the case of the prosecution that the accused had started their careers as criminals and attained notoriety”. They were inhabitants of the local area who were compelled to fall in line. In other words while they were gang members of Veerappan’s gang, they were not the main leaders. The trial court therefore convicted them but imposed only life sentence.
The Supreme Court which enhanced the punishment to death sentence seemed to have given greater importance to the issue of violence in the area as a result of the clash between Veerappan’s gang and the STF and police forces. The SC opined that that theirs was an onerous duty of “self preservation” which impelled the SC to impose death penalty.
Whatever the rationale of the SC’s ruling, the power of the Council of Ministers of the Central Government is much wider and in exercising their pardoning powers the Government is duty bound to look at the conduct of the prisoners post-conviction, as also other personal factors. It is also relevant to point out Veerappan himself was eliminated in an encounter by the Tamil Nadu Police in 2004 and his entire gang liquidated.
All the 4 convicts are senior citizens aged above 60 years, which Meesakara Mathayan aged nearly 72 years, Beelavendan and Gnanaprakash aged about 65 – 67 years and Simon being over 60 years. They have all been in jail for the last 18 years.
None of them have any other criminal cases against them. In fact the same SC bench has acquitted them in other TADA cases which were part of the same set of cases in which they got death sentence.
The conduct of the convicts has been exemplary and they have not got involved in any prison offences in the last 18 years. The basis of criminal jurisprudence system in India is the possibility of reform of prisoners; not retributive justice. Is the Government of India so scared of 60 and 70 year old men? Do the\y constitute after 18 years in prison, such a major threat to society that the only solution is by hanging them?
It is indeed a sad day for democracy that the UPA Government in Delhi seems bent on laying the record for serial hangings, in a manner never before witnessed in Independent India. Political brownie points cannot be scored by the union government over the lives of death row convicts; it is the worst form of democratic degeneration of any country.
Dr. V. Suresh
National General Secretary, PUCL