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Hope for death row convicts

Patna/Bhagalpur, Jan. 23: A recent Supreme Court verdict has rekindled hopes among 42 death row convicts lodged in different state jails.

Their mercy petitions pending before the President of India for more than a decade have become elixir for their new life.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that inexplicable and inordinate delay in deciding on the mercy plea of a death row convict is sufficient ground for commutation of death sentence to life.

All death row convicts would now have to approach the Supreme Court seeking commuation of their convictions.

The verdict came while disposing of a petition filed by 15 death row convicts, who had sought commutation of their death sentence, as the government had not taken a decision on their mercy pleas for years.

Delay in execution of the hanging order has brought cheers for 73-year-old Shobhit Chamar, a condemned prisoner lodged in the special cell of Bhagalpur’s Shaheed Jubba Sahni Central Jail. His mercy petition has been pending before the President of India since March 17, 1998.

Chamar, a Kaimur resident, was awarded capital punishment by a sessions and district court of Rohtas on February 23, 1996 for killing six members of an upper caste family on February 12, 1992.

Chamar, in solitary confinement since the apex court upheld the lower court decision on March 4, 1998, shared his happiness with fellow convicts. “For the first time, he looked so happy. I have never seen him so delighted as he was on Wednesday in 16 years,” said a prison official.

Death row convicts Nanhe Lal Paswan (65), Veer Kuer Paswan (70), Krishna Mochi (65), and Dharmendra Singh, alias Dharu Singh (41), were equally excited. The jail authorities confirmed that their mercy petitions were sent to the President of India’s office on March 31, 2004.

Shaheed Jubba Sahni Central Jail superintendent K.P. Pingua said: “A single example is enough to generate a ray of hope among convicts against whom black warrants had been issued.”

A.K. Sharan, the superintendent of the special central jail at Bhagalpur, said: “We have a few such convicts. But the majority is lodged in Shaheed Jubba Sahni Central Jail, as it is the only jail in the state with a history of carrying out hanging executions.”

A practising lawyer of the Patna High Court, Rajesh Ranjan Pandey, said: “The verdict of a sessions court in case of a death sentence is not final until the high court confirms when the convict has the right to appeal. If this fails, the convict can approach the Supreme Court and then the President of India. In India, the final appellate authority is the President.”


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