Friday, April 10, 2009

Home Minister's interview: Questions on death penalty

The Home Minister P.Chidambaram's interview to The Hindu today has dealt with some key questions on death penalty. One is the Minister's claim that Afzal Guru's mercy petition will be considered in chronological order, as his petition has been listed as No.22 in that order.

Bikram Jeet Batra, who has been researching this issue, says:
"I have recently heard of this chronology argument - Congress started it a few months ago, I suspect, as a counter to the BJP's attacks on Afzal... seems quite fair although there is no such 'requirement' in law or policy - at best it could be said to be a practice/norm within the MHA."

But I am more concerned about the other part of Minister's reply, wherein he says, in his view, remaining on death row is more severe punishment than suffering execution. Is the Government deliberately pursuing this "more severe punishment" by delaying a decision on the mercy petitions? Such a course would be completely unconstitutional as it is clear from the Supreme court's judgment in Triveniben case.

His reply to the last question is equally debatable. One could understand if he had said that fixing time limit for deciding mercy petitions was not feasible, and was not envisaged even in Triveniben judgment. But linking this with what he claims as the 'larger issue' that death penalty itself be replaced with life sentence with parole is very puzzling. When did the Government begin to think on these lines? Has the Government initiated a debate on the merits or otherwise of this alternative? Or is the Government intending to pursue this alternative policy by default, without calling it so publicly, by not taking any decision at all on the pending mercy petitions?
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