While the Supreme Court on Wednesday confirmed the death sentence awarded to 26/11 gunman Ajmal Kasab, the fact is that the legal process has not come to an end just as yet.
The Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist has the last right of appeal before the President of India in the form of a mercy petition.
President Pranab Mukherjee has nearly 20 mercy petitions pending before him, and the most famous one is that of Afzal Guru, convicted in the 2001 Parliament attack.
Once Kasab files his mercy petition, the rule demands that he waits until the rest of the petitions are taken up and disposed off. However, the President reserves the right to fast track a particular case, provided he is convinced that there is an extraordinary circumstance concerning this case and hence it must be taken out of turn.
Public sentiment is also another factor that the President of India can take into consideration. However, the convict also has the right to go back to the Supreme Court if he feels that his mercy petition is taking too long to dispose and the court in such matters could remind the President about the delay.
While deciding on a mercy petition the following factors are to be considered by the President of India:
- Personality of the convict;
- Whether the convict was suffering from a mental disorder when he/she committed the offence;
- Had the court expressed any doubt regarding the evidence when handing out the sentence?;
- Has any fresh evidence cropped up to substantiate the claim of the appellant?;
- Was evidence considered before the sentence handed out?;
- Was the death sentence given after a long delay in the trial and investigation?
Once Kasab files his mercy plea, the President of India would have 21 mercy petitions pending. The petitions that are pending which deserve a mention are that of Balwant Singh Rajaona, convicted for the murder of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995, and Afzal Guru, the Parliament attacker.
The biggest debating point was that of Afzal Guru. He was ordered to be hanged on October 20, 2006, but his wife filed the mercy plea and it has been in abeyance ever since.
The issue of mercy petitions was viewed very seriously by the Supreme Court, and in the month of April it had sought details of the mercy petitions pending before the President of India.
There was a debate that some of the state governments had opposed the death sentence stating that there would be trouble, but the Supreme Court stated that while the role of the state is advisory in nature, the final decision will lie with the President of the country.