President’s Order on Mercy Petition Quashed by Court

IAS Prelims 2023

The Delhi High Court has commuted Sonu Sardar’s death sentence to life imprisonment, quashing the orders of the President of India and the Governor of Chhattisgarh rejecting his mercy petitions.

Sardar was convicted for the murder of five persons including two children in Chhattisgarh.

The bench of Justices G.S.Sistani and Vinod Goel has allowed his petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India read with Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for quashing the orders of the President of India and the Governor of Chhattisgarh rejecting the mercy petition of the petitioner and to commute the death sentence of the petitioner into life imprisonment on account of delay, improper exercise of power and illegal solitary confinement.

The trial court had sentenced Sardar and his co-accused to death in 2008 finding the crime to be among the rarest of rare cases. Thereafter, the High Court of Chhattisgarh confirmed the death sentence of the petitioner in 2010. The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence by dismissing the appeal filed by the petitioner in February 2012.

The mercy petition of the convict was rejected by the Governor of Chhattisgarh in April 2013 and by the President in May 2014. The review petition filed by the petitioner was dismissed in February 2014.

In January this year, the apex court asked the Delhi High Court to decide the writ petition on merits.

Mercy Petition:

Under Article 72 of the Constitution, the President can grant pardon, and suspend, remit or commute a sentence of death. However, the President does not exercise this power on this own — he has to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers. This too has been made clear by the Constitution.

Under the existing rules of procedure governing mercy petitions, the view of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), conveyed to the President in writing, is taken as the view of the Cabinet, and the President decides a mercy petition accordingly.

Once a convict has been finally awarded the death sentence by the Supreme Court, anybody, including a foreign national, can send a mercy petition with regard to that person to the President’s Office or the MHA.

A mercy plea can also be sent to the Governor of the state concerned, who then forwards it to the MHA for further action.

The convict can file a mercy plea from prison through officials, his lawyer or family. These days, mercy petitions can also be emailed to the MHA or President’s Secretariat.

Different Presidents have dealt with mercy petitions differently. Since there is no fixed timeframe for disposing of a mercy petition, both the MHA and President have sometimes sat on cases for years.