Press Council of India chief Markandey Katju, who is spearheading efforts to seek pardon for 1993 Mumbai blast convicts Sanjay Dutt and Zaibunnisa Kazi, has sought suspension of their jail sentences.
In an appeal sent to President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Justice Katju has sought that Dutt and Kazi should not be jailed, as the actor’s appeal for pardon is pending with the President.
"Now, I issue this fresh appeal to you to grant respite/reprieve/suspension of sentence so that they may not have to go to jail during the pendency of my appeals for pardon. Mr Majeed Memon, advocate and Mr Mahesh Bhat, film producer, join me in both these appeals," Katju wrote.
Katju quoted Article 72 of the Constitution to support his point.
"In this connection, I refer to the relevant part of Article 72 (1) of the Constitution which states: The President shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence," Katju said.
He said a perusal of Article 72 (1) shows that pending the grant of pardon respite, reprieve or suspension of the sentence can be granted by the President of India.
Katju, a former Supreme Court judge, said the word 'respite' was defined in the Oxford Dictionary as a short delay permitted before an unpleasant obligation is met or a punishment carried out.
He said the word 'respite' is also defined in the same dictionary as 'postponing a sentence or obligation' and added that 'reprieve' has been defined in the same dictionary as 'cancel or postpone the punishment'.
"The words ‘reprieve’, ‘respite’ and ‘suspension’, which have been used in Article 72, cannot be treated as redundant or otiose. Hence, it is evident that Your Excellency has the power to postpone the implementation of the judgment of the Supreme Court," Katju wrote in his appeal.
“The Supreme Court has directed Sanjay Dutt and Zaibunnisa Kazi to surrender within four weeks of the date of the judgment. If, therefore, my pardon appeal is ultimately allowed but beyond four weeks and in the meantime they have to go to jail, it will result in grave injustice," Katju said.
Katju also added that Article 72 of the Constitution does not specify who can make an appeal under this provision.
"Hence, it makes no difference that Sanjay Dutt or Zaibunnisa Kazi have not themselves sent an appeal under Article 72 and I can certainly make an appeal in this connection," he said.
In his letter, Katju also sought time from the President, the prime minister and the home minister for a personal interview with him and advocate Majeed Memon so that they can brief about the facts and circumstances as well as the legal position in the case.