Recently, The Supreme Court said that prisoners on death row were taking advantage of inordinate delays in deciding mercy petitions to seek commutation of their punishment to life sentence, thereby defeating the purpose of death sentence.
About Mercy Petitions:
- As per the Constitutional framework in India, mercy petition to the President is the last constitutional resort a convict can take when he is sentenced by the court of law. A convict can present a mercy petition to the President of India under Article 72 of the Constitution of India.
- Similarly, the power to grant pardon is conferred upon the Governors of States under Article 161 of the Constitution of India
- Under Article 72, The President shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence—
- In all cases where the punishment or sentence is by a Court Martial.
- In all cases where the punishment or sentence is for an offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the Union extends.
- In all cases where the sentence is a sentence of death.
- Under Article 161. The Governor of a State shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the State extends.
- There is no time limit given in these two Articles for Mercy Plea.
- These Articles have no binding effect on the President and the Governors of the states to accept all the Mercy Petitions.
Difference between pardoning powers of President and Governor: Power differs in the following two ways:
- The President’s power to grant pardon extends to the cases where the sentence or punishment has been awarded by a Court Martial, but the Governor’s power prescribed doesn’t provide so.
- The President can grant pardon in all cases, including the death sentence, but the pardoning power of the Governor doesn’t extend to death sentence.
Process of making a mercy petition:
- There is no statutory written procedure for dealing with mercy petitions, but in practice either the convict in person or his relative on his behalf may submit a written petition to the President.
- A convict under the sentence of death is allowed to make the petition within a period of seven days after the date on which the Superintendent of jail informs him about the dismissal of the appeal or special leave to appeal by the Supreme Court.
- It is then forwarded to the Ministry of Home Affairs for their comments and recommendations.
- The Home Ministry in consultation with the concerned State Government, recommended to the President for his decision.
- Both the executive heads are required to act on the advice of the appropriate government.
Q1) What is the pardoning power of the Indian President?
Article 72 of the Constitution of India bestows upon the President of the Indian Union a unique function called the “pardoning power”. A pardon is an act of grace and cannot be deemed as a matter of right.2