SC stays execution of 'mentally ill' Delhi blast accused Bhullar

The Supreme Court today stayed the execution of terrorist Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, convicted over the 1993 bomb blast in Delhi that killed nine people, and sought a medical report on his mental health.

Bhullar has been in solitary confinement on death row since August 2001. His family has been pleading that he should not be hanged because he is mentally ill.

In April last year, the Supreme Court had refused to commute his death sentence to life in prison on the grounds of mental illness In April 2013, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by Bhullar to commute his death sentence, but the President of India has delayed deciding his mercy petition since then.

Bhullar's case has now been strengthened by a precedent-setting judgement by the apex court earlier this month saying that "inordinate and inexplicable" delays in carrying out an execution, and ''mental illness'' caused by long solitary confinement'', are sufficient grounds for commuting the penalty, even if the crime is terrorism; and commuted the death sentences of 15 persons to life imprisonment.

Today, a four-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam and also comprising Justices R M Lodha, H L Dattu and S J Mukhopadhaya said the decision could have a bearing on Bhullar's case. It issued a notice to the union government as well as the Delhi state government on a curative petition filed by Bhullar's wife Navneet Kaur.

The bench directed the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), where Bhullar is being treated, to file a medical report within a week on the condition of the convict.

"We would examine whether our judgement (pertaining to commutation of death sentence to life term on the ground of delay in deciding the mercy plea) is applicable or not in this case," the bench said, adding, "We also want to know his present condition".

Bhullar was awarded the death penalty for triggering a bomb blast in New Delhi in September 1993 which killed nine persons and injured 25 others, including then Youth Congress president M S Bitta. That incident has almost vanished from public memory except by the victims and their friends; but one of the culprits seems to have gone mad in solitary since then.

Legal experts say that the President's office often simply back-shelves mercy petitions that the home ministry suggests should be rejected. Bhullar applied to the President for clemency in January 2003; his request was rejected eight years later.

The president's powers in deciding clemency petitions are limited. The recommendation of the home ministry can be returned for reconsideration - but only once, after which the president is constitutionally obliged to follow the ministry's recommendation. However, there is no time limit for the presidential signature, leaving room for endless delays.

India has more than 400 convicts on death row. Executions are rarely carried out, but in the last two years there have been two hangings in India.

Mohammed Ajmal Qasab, the sole surviving attacker from the 2008 Mumbai terror invasion, was executed in quick time November 2012 in a prison in the Pune. And in February 2013, Kashmiri Afzal Guru was controversially hanged by President Pranab Mukherjee for the 2001 attack on parliament.