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Sonu Sardar case- Delhi High court quashed President’s decision.

Ayush Singh

Background-

  1. Sardar, along with his brother and accomplices, had killed five persons of a family, including a woman and two children, during a dacoity bid in Chhattisgarh’s Cher village on November 26, 2004.
  2. The trial court had slapped death penalty on him in February 2008 and the Chhattisgarh High Court had upheld it on March 8, 2010.
  3. The Supreme Court in February 2012 had concurred with the findings of the two courts and affirmed the punishment. His mercy petition was also dismissed by both the Governor and the President. In February 2015, the apex court had also rejected his review plea.
  4. The convict then moved the high court seeking quashing of the orders of the President and the Governor rejecting the mercy petition. He had also sought commutation of the death sentence into life imprisonment on account of delay, improper exercise of power and illegal solitary confinement.

 

Delhi High Court’s Stand-

  “As between funeral fire and mental worry, it is the latter which is more devastating, for, funeral fire burns only the dead body while mental worry burns the living one,” a bench of Justices G S Sistani and Vinod Goel said while referring to former Supreme Court judge K Jagannatha Shetty’s observation in a similar matter.

“Once the sentence of death has been confirmed by the final judicial forum, any hope of acquittal which might be lingering on in the mind of the condemned prisoner is foreclosed and the spectre of death starts looming upon him. One never knows when he might be called upon to answer the call of the hangman. This uncertainty, i.e. the doubt of a tomorrow, is what burns the living body,” the court said.

 

  1. There is an unexplained delay of 1 year 4 months and 13 days, which though unexplained is not unreasonable nor is inordinate to be a supervening circumstance vitiating the decisions of the Governor and the President.
  2. Between the period 14.09.2011 to 20.10.2014 the petitioner was kept in illegal solitary confinement in absolute disregard of the judgment of the Supreme Court in Sunil Batra Case.
  3. The relevant considerations of the mitigating circumstances, recommendation of the jail superintendent and the young age of the petitioner were not placed before the Governor depriving him of the opportunity to exercise his power in a fair and just manner.
  4. The mercy petition was processed in an extremely cavalier and casual fashion by the State Government at all stages, right upto placing the note for the Governor. It was all along treated as a petition seeking pre-mature release under an inapplicable rule of the Jail Manual. The Governor was informed that the petition is for pre-mature release and not commutation of sentence.
  5. The inputs received from the Superintendent of Police and the District Magistrate were extraneous considerations taken into account by the Governor. Even the relevant input of the Jail Superintendent was under the incorrect rule for the wrong purpose , which was wholly ignored by the State Government and relied upon by the Union Government.

Therefore, it is clear that the combined effect of the supervening circumstance and the ignorance of relevant consideration as well as consideration of extraneous material has vitiated the decisions.

Supreme Court’s Stand-

The Supreme Court on Jan 12, 2017 ordered the Delhi High Court to hear the death row convict, Sonu Sardar’s appeal and dispose it off, in two months. A Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Dipak Misra and also comprising Justice R Banumathai passed this order after hearing the arguments from the Central Government top lawyer, Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi, and Atul Jha, the standing counsel of the Chhattisgarh Government. The apex court had on Dec 12, 2016 last year, raised questions on how the Delhi High Court could put a stay on the death penalty of convict Sonu Sardar.The apex court had sentenced Sardar to the gallows after keeping in view the fact that it was a rarest of the rare case. Standing Counsel for Chhattisgarh Government Atul Jha said that this serious matter needed to be heard by the apex court. The mercy petition of Sardar was earlier dismissed by President Pranab Mukherjee. His review was also dismissed by the SC, after which he knocked the doors of the Delhi High court for relief and sought a stay on his execution. In November 2016, the Supreme Court had asked the Delhi High Court to decide on a plea of the Chhattisgarh Government, challenging its jurisdiction to hear and grant a stay on the execution of Sonu. The convict had been sentenced to death penalty by a trial court in Chhattisgarh, a decision later upheld by the state’s High Court and the Supreme Court as well. The execution was stayed by the Delhi High Court on March 2, 2015. Challenging the decision, the State Government had told the apex court that the Delhi High Court had no jurisdiction to stay the execution of the convict, as the offence had taken place in Chhattisgarh.

Critical Analysis-

In the instant case there is a form of additional torment not mandated by law, not part of the sentence awarded to the convict and hence, it violates the constitutional protections. The delay being talked about in the case at hand inserts a dehumanising factor in the execution of the sentence of death in as much it deprives one of his life in an unjust, unfair and unreasonable way, running awry of the due process of law enshrined in Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution.

 

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