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PUCL statement on the President’s rejection of the mercy pleas of four Veerappan associates

February 17, 2013

Press release put out on the evening of 16 February by the PEOPLE’S UNION FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES

CHENNAI: The PUCL strongly condemns the rejection by the President of India of the commutation petitions of Simon, Meesakara Mathayan, Bilavendran and Gnanaprakasam. Equally condemnable is the action of the Prison Authorities of Belgaum Central Prison, Karnataka who in the morning of 13.2.2013 merely intimated orally to the convicts of the rejection of their mercy petitions without giving them the written orders of rejection. In sharp contrast, signed acknowledgements of receipt have been obtained from all 4 convicts!

PUCL is extremely concerned at the repeat pattern of the deliberate and surreptitious manner in which rejection of commutation petitions has been communicated in all the 4 cases which the present President has rejected – viz., Kasab, Afzal Guru, Saibanna and the current 4 convicts. In Afzal Guru’s case the Union Home Minister is on record to state that they did not intimate immediately to the wife of Afzal so as to prevent them from approaching the High or Supreme Court. Even in Saibanna’s case the rejection was only orally intimated but acknowledgement obtained from the prisoner. It is very clear that the Union Government and the State Governments all seem to be acting in a manner totally against the spirit of the Indian Constitution and rule of law by consciously and deliberately sabotaging and subverting established procedures and has to be strongly condemned as unbecoming of constitutional authorities.

The rejection by the President of India of the commutation petitions in the case of these 4 convicts seems to be based on a wholly unacceptable, erroneous and unwarranted appreciation of the powers of commutation provided by Article 72 of the Indian Constitution. The commutation or `pardoning’ power of President of India, is better described as `unfettered power’ not subject to any constitutional or judicial restraints.

The power of the President under Art. 72 in the nature of a `constitutional and executive’ power as contrasted to the Courts Statutory and judicial powers, and is actually in the nature of `Residual Sovereign Power’ untrammeled by the decision of the courts, including the Supreme Court; the President is thus empowered to go beyond the evidence on record and come to a different conclusion than that recorded by the Court.

It is most unfortunate that the President, advised by the cabinet, seem to be under the false impression that what the Supreme Court has said is the final word beyond which the executive cannot go. There is no other way to understand the string of Presidential rejections of commutation petitions coming in rapid fashion. At the current rate of rejections India can look forward to a continuous string of serial hangings in this year itself.

The rejection by the President of the commutation petitions of these 4 convicts is wholly unconstitutional, unfair and arbitrary. The President, advised by the Council of Ministers, seem to have missed the point that the Designated TADA Court did not feel compelled to impose death penalty because “it is not the case of the prosecution that the accused had started their careers as criminals and attained notoriety”. They were inhabitants of the local area who were compelled to fall in line. In other words while they were gang members of Veerappan’s gang, they were not the main leaders. The trial court therefore convicted them but imposed only life sentence.

The Supreme Court which enhanced the punishment to death sentence seemed to have given greater importance to the issue of violence in the area as a result of the clash between Veerappan’s gang and the STF and police forces. The SC opined that that theirs was an onerous duty of “self preservation” which impelled the SC to impose death penalty.

Whatever the rationale of the SC’s ruling, the power of the Council of Ministers of the Central Government is much wider and in exercising their pardoning powers the Government is duty bound to look at the conduct of the prisoners post-conviction, as also other personal factors. It is also relevant to point out Veerappan himself was eliminated in an encounter by the Tamil Nadu Police in 2004 and his entire gang liquidated.

All the 4 convicts are senior citizens aged above 60 years, which Meesakara Mathayan aged nearly 72 years, Beelavendan and Gnanaprakash aged about 65 – 67 years and Simon being over 60 years. They have all been in jail for the last 18 years.

None of them have any other criminal cases against them. In fact the same SC bench has acquitted them in other TADA cases which were part of the same set of cases in which they got death sentence.

The conduct of the convicts has been exemplary and they have not got involved in any prison offences in the last 18 years. The basis of criminal jurisprudence system in India is the possibility of reform of prisoners; not retributive justice. Is the Government of India so scared of 60 and 70 year old men? Do the\y constitute after 18 years in prison, such a major threat to society that the only solution is by hanging them?

It is indeed a sad day for democracy that the UPA Government in Delhi seems bent on laying the record for serial hangings, in a manner never before witnessed in Independent India. Political brownie points cannot be scored by the union government over the lives of death row convicts; it is the worst form of democratic degeneration of any country.

Dr. V. Suresh
National General Secretary, PUCL

7 Comments leave one →
  1. seeta permalink
    February 17, 2013 1:55 AM

    it is truly disgusting, the way our judiciary and political leaders seem to be baying for the blood of such completely disempowered people. i wonder what the congress is trying to achieve by hanging senior citizens this time. this is simply turning into a blood frenzy now.
    not in my name, not in my name, you hear.

    • anonymous indian permalink
      February 17, 2013 4:20 AM

      so if a terrorist is 60 years of age we should let him off as a senior citizen. the human rights brigade brings bizzare arguments to the table.

      • seeta permalink
        February 17, 2013 12:22 PM

        yes. especially if they’ve already served roughly 18 years in jail (and stayed in jail, unlike terrorists by other names such as serial rapists, party goons, rioters, etc) why not continue to keep them in jail? why kill them? what is achieved by killing them? would you feel better?

        • anonymous indian permalink
          February 17, 2013 3:47 PM

          You cannot have differential laws for dacoits and terrorists. Your “dacoit” or “bandit” is a terrorist to the families of those who lost their lives in that landmine blast for which these people were convicted.

          • seeta permalink
            February 18, 2013 8:16 PM

            and the families will feel better if these men are killed, now, after all these years and as they face up to their own death itself-death from decay and old age, not death imposed by the state?
            as for the label terrorist, the state pretty conveniently calls some ppl terrorists while instituting certain other kinds of killing as legitimate. ppl who are responsible for large sclae murder and rape in border areas are hardly ever labeled terrorists. ppl who actually make policies knwoing full well that 30% of their countries’ population is going to die of starvation as a result of those policies are never called terrorists, ppl responsible for mass scale displacement are never called terrorists. however, ppl who may question the state’s sovereign right to violence are too quickly labeled terrorists. my problem is less with the fact of death as justice but with justice itself. who decides that someone is fit to die?
            the easiest way to prevent any questioning, as also to justify the complexity of beginning to think about what is entailed in taking away that which you cannot return-life-is to evoke the families of those that were killed in specific instances, while to never see the living that for instance continue to live in the aftermath of the bhopal gas leak. and i am not using the word tragedy becasue it is precisely our state that labels it so to avoid any responsibitly when all state functionaries knew full well that it was a disaster waiting to happen.
            by constantly evoking the figure of mourning families for some ppl and not for other ppl, perhaps we miss out on the hugeness of the moral question in sentencing someone to not be worthy of bare life-bare life brought to the minimum and reduced merely to the sustenance for confined breaths till the end of your life.

  2. February 17, 2013 10:18 AM

    I believe the President considers the recommendation of the Home Ministry in all such cases. This article didn’t explore that bit. What was Home ministry’s recommendations?

  3. passerby permalink
    February 17, 2013 12:09 PM

    I agree 100% with this. In the name of nabbing Veerappan human rights of indigenous communities and many families were violated. There were killings and counter killings. Both sides indulged in violence. Veerappan was killed years ago and that should have been the end of the matter. After that there was no violence from his supporters or erstwhile colleagues. It will be cruel if they are executed, it will not be justice but vengeance.

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