Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN | May 3, 2013,

Mahendra Nath Das’s mercy plea: Why SC commuted his death sentence
Former President APJ Abdul Kalam had in 2005 favoured commutation of Mahendra Nath Das’s death penalty to life term.

NEW DELHI: Revealing the casual manner in which mercy petitions are dealt with, theSupreme Court found that former President APJ Abdul Kalam’s 2005 note favouring commutation of Mahendra Nath Das’s death penalty to life term was never placed before his successor Pratibha Patil, who rejected Das’s mercy plea in 2011.

This and the 12-year delay in deciding Das’s mercy plea were cited by a bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya to commute hisdeath sentence to life term on Wednesday.

Kalam had considered the mercy petition in light of the recommendation made by the home minister and passed an order on September 30, 2005, saying, “I have considered the mercy petition proposal sent for my consideration in respect of Mahendra Nath Das. I find that though the crime committed was of a gruesome nature, yet the conduct of the accused does not show trace of pre-meditated murder. The crime can well be attributed to a gross lack of mental equanimity on his part.”

Kalam continued, “In such circumstances, his mercy petition in my view, be accepted and his death sentence commuted to life-long imprisonment (that is for the rest of his life). During his further incarceration in prison, he may be given periodic counseling by spiritualist and moral leaders which could help reform his personality and mental psyche. This may be considered.”

Apart from the delay in considering the mercy plea, the bench of Justices Singhvi and Mukhopadhaya noticed that the home ministry had prepared another note on Das’s mercy plea on October 5, 2010, with reference to Kalam’s note.

But “what was most intriguing” was that while making a recommendation on October 12, 2010 to Patil for rejection of Das’s mercy plea, the home minister did not mention Kalam’s note of September 30, 2005. “Why this was done has not been explained by the respondents,” the bench said.

“Omission to make a mention of the order passed by her predecessor and note dated September 30, 2005 from the summary prepared for her consideration leads to an inference that the President was kept in the dark about the view expressed by her predecessor and was deprived of an opportunity to objectively consider the entire matter,” Justice Singhvi, who authored the judgment, said.

“Therefore, it must be held that the President was not properly advised and assisted in the disposal of the petition filed by Das,” the bench said.

“In the above backdrop, we are convinced that 12 years delay in the disposal of Das’s mercy petition was sufficient for commutation of the sentence of death and the division bench of the (Guwahati) high court committed serious error by dismissing the writ petition solely on the ground that he was found guilty of committing heinous crime,” the bench said.

“The rejection of Das’s mercy petition is declared illegal and quashed and sentence of death awarded to him by the trial court, which has been confirmed by the high court and this court is commuted into life imprisonment,” it added.