President’s power of pardon & Mercy:

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June 15, 2024

President’s power of pardon & Mercy:

Why in News? President Droupadi Murmu has rejected a mercy petition filed by Pakistani national Mohammed Arif who was sentenced to death for the December 22, 2000 terrorist attack at the Red Fort in which three people including two Army jawans were killed.

  • The President’s decision, made on May 27, came after Arif failed to obtain relief from the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court in his appeals against a trial court order of October 2005. He can challenge the President’s decision and prolong the proceedings further.

What standard do courts apply in death sentence cases?

  • In 1980, the Supreme Court (Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab) upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty, but established important guardrails. “Judges”, the court said, “should never be bloodthirsty”, and the death penalty should not be awarded “save in the rarest of rare cases when the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed”, and all possible mitigating circumstances have been considered.
  • The court has reaffirmed the “rarest of rare” standard in several decisions since then.
  • The Report of the 262nd Law Commission published in 2015 recommended the “absolute abolition” of the death penalty “for all crimes other than terrorism related offences and waging war”.
  • On the President’s power to “grant pardons, etc., and to suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases” (Article 72 of the Constitution), the Law Commission Report said these ‘mercy powers’ provided additional protection against possible miscarriage of justice and, “therefore, cases found unfit for mercy merit capital punishment.”

What can happen here onward?

  • Arif has the option of challenging the President’s rejection of his mercy petition.
  • At a procedural level, the apex court has held that the President’s power must be exercised based on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, and can be challenged on multiple grounds — including that relevant material was not considered, the power was exercised based on political considerations, or that there was no application of mind.
  • The top court has also commuted the death sentence in cases of inordinate delay in deciding mercy petitions, such as in the case of Shatrugan Chauhan v. State of U.P.(2014).
  • The court also commuted the sentence of one Gurmeet Singh after he spent 27 years in custody (and 21 years on death row).
  • The court found that there was an inordinate delay in deciding his mercy petition, which was disposed of in March 2013 more than seven years after the Supreme Court first upheld the death sentence.
  • In April 2023, the Supreme Court declined to interfere with an order of the Bombay High Court, which commuted the death sentence awarded to a woman and her sister on grounds of inordinate delay in deciding the mercy petitions of the accused.


The Indian President’s Power of Pardon and Mercy:

The Indian Constitution empowers the President with the power of pardon and mercy under Article 72. This grants the President the authority to:

Grant pardons: This completely absolves a person of a crime and its consequences.

Grant reprieves: This postpones the execution of a sentence, typically a death sentence.

Grant respites: This temporarily suspends the punishment.

Remit sentences: This reduces the length of a sentence.

Commute sentences: This changes the type of sentence, often from death to life imprisonment.

Case Law:

  • Maru Ram v Union of India (1980): This landmark case established that the President acts on the advice of the Council of Ministers and the power isn’t absolute.
  • Epuru Sudhakar & Anr v. Government of Andhra Pradesh (2006): The Supreme Court ruled that the President’s clemency power is subject to judicial review under certain conditions, like if the decision is arbitrary or mala fide (in bad faith).



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President’s power of pardon & Mercy: | Vaid ICS Institute