The Union government has two weeks to decide on the mercy application of Balwant Singh Rajoana, who was convicted for killing former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995, the Supreme Court said on Monday (January 25).
The division bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde, justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian got upset when solicitor general Tushar Mehta on Monday said the Centre was still ‘examining the mercy plea’.
The apex court, which has been critical of the Centre’s lack of decision-making on the application, reminded the Centre of the letter it had written to the Punjab government saying it was planning to recommend to the President that Rajoana’s sentence be commuted.
On December 4, 2020, the court had presented a letter written by the Union Home Ministry to the Punjab government in September 2019, which made it clear the Centre intended to send the recommendation to the President.
“You had written to the Punjab government that his death sentence will be commuted on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti,” the apex court had reminded the Centre then.
The bench said the three weeks’ time sought by the Centre to decided on the mercy petition was “unreasonable” and asked it to take a decision in two weeks.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared on behalf of Rajoana, rued the fact that he was behind bars for more than 25 years and that his mercy appeal is pending for nine years.
Rajoana, who was a Punjab police constable, was arrested for his involvement in an explosion outside the Punjab civil secretariat in Chandigarh that killed Beant Singh and 16 others on August 31, 1995. A Chandigarh court sentenced him to death in 2007, which was later upheld by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2010. Rajoana filed a mercy petition before the President instead of appealing against that decision.
Rajoana’s request for mercy has been backed by Shiromani Akali Dal. Around the same time, Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, the assassinated Chief Minister’s grandson, had said his family will appeal for the convict’s release if the Centre withdrew the three farm laws.