The Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to grant any relief to Balwant Singh Rajoana, seeking commutation of his death penalty on the ground that the Centre failed to decide his mercy petition for a considerably long period, and asked the Centre to deal with the mercy petition and take a decision.

A bench headed by Justice B.R. Gavai said: “The competent authority…in time would again as in when they deem necessary may deal with mercy petition and take a decision. The writ petition is disposed of accordingly.”

On March 2, the Supreme Court had reserved its verdict on a plea by Rajoana seeking commutation of his death penalty on the ground that the Centre failed to decide his mercy petition for a considerably long period. Rajoana has been convicted in the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh.

A bench headed by Justice B.R. Gavai reserved the verdict after hearing senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, representing Rajaona, and Additional Solicitor General K.M. Natraj, representing the Centre.

Rohatgi had argued that keeping Rajaona on death row while sitting over his mercy plea for a long time violated his fundamental rights. Interestingly, Rajoana has not challenged his conviction or sentence.

In September last year, the Supreme Court had pulled up the Centre for delay in deciding the mercy petition filed on behalf of Rajoana, who has been in jail for 25 years awaiting his execution.

A bench headed by then Chief Justice U.U. Lalit said it was not inclined to entertain the request of the Centre’s counsel to grant adjournment in the matter. The top court had told the Centre’s counsel that four months have lapsed since its May 2022 order, as it questioned the delay in taking a decision on Rajoana’s mercy plea.

The top court asked a responsible officer from the department concerned to file an affidavit on the status of the matter.

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