The Supreme Court asked the Centre to take a decision on Khalistani terrorist Devinderpal Singh Bhullar's fresh mercy plea by March 27 or else it will decide on the issue of commuting his death sentence to life imprisonment on the ground of his mental condition.
A bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam adjourned the case for hearing after the Centre contended that the mercy plea is still under consideration.
"If you inform us (about the decision taken) it is well and good or we will decide the case," the bench told Attorney General G E Vahanvati.
It also said that there have been recent cases where the government has not been taking the advice of its law officers seriously and pointed out that last week one Additional Solicitor General sent a detailed letter to Centre but it was rejected outright.
The bench, however, said that it cannot reveal the details of it.
The court was hearing a curative petition filed by Bhullar's wife Navneet Kaur seeking commutation of death sentence on grounds his mental condition and because of delay on the part of the government in deciding his earlier mercy plea.
She pleaded the apex court for a relook at its verdict by which her plea to commute his death sentence to life imprisonment was rejected. She filed the petition after the Supreme Court commuted death sentence of other prisoners on the ground of delay in deciding mercy plea.
Earlier, the Centre had assured the Supreme Court that death sentence of Bhullar will not be executed till it takes a decision on a fresh mercy plea on medical grounds.
The government had informed the court about the report sent by Delhi's Lieutenant Governor in which he had not favoured execution of Bhullar's death sentence.
The LG, in his report sent to the Centre, said, "On principles of human ethics and natural justice, I cannot bring myself to recommend the rejection of the mercy petition of Navneet Kaur (wife of Bhullar) and my comments may kindly be forwarded to the President of India for the final disposal in the matter."
The plea of Bhullar's wife for commutation of death sentence assumes significance in view of the apex court's January 21 verdict holding that inordinate and inexplicable delay by the government in deciding mercy plea of death row convicts can be a ground for commuting their sentence.
She submitted that her husband is not mentally fit and he is being treated by Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences.
Bhullar was convicted and awarded death penalty for triggering a bomb blast in New Delhi in September 1993, which killed nine persons and injured 25, including the then Youth Congress chief M S Bitta.
The apex court had on March 26, 2002 dismissed Bhullar's appeal against death sentence awarded by a trial court in August 2001 and endorsed by the Delhi high court in 2002.
He had filed a review petition which was also dismissed on December 17, 2002. Bhullar had then moved a curative petition which too had been rejected by the apex court on March 12, 2003.
Bhullar, meanwhile, had filed a mercy petition before the President on January 14, 2003.
The President, after a lapse of over eight years, dismissed his mercy plea on May 14, 2011. Citing the delay, he had again moved the apex court for commutation of the death sentence but his plea was rejected.
The apex court had on January 21 held inordinate delay by government in deciding mercy plea of death row convicts can be a ground for commuting their sentence and granted life term to 15 condemned prisoners, including four aides of forest brigand Veerappan.
In a landmark judgement, the court had held that prolonging execution of death sentence has a "dehumanising effect" on condemned prisoners who have to face the "agony" of waiting for years under the shadow of death during the pendency of their mercy plea.
Image: Khalistani terrorist Devinderpal Singh Bhullar