The Supreme Court has commuted the death sentence of a murderer to life imprisonment on the grounds that the President's office took too long to reject his petition seeking mercy.
MN Das, a death row prisoner, killed a man in Assam in 1990. Six years later, while on bail, he murdered another man. In 1999, he was convicted by the Supreme Court and sentenced to death. His mercy petition was rejected by President Pratibha Patil, more than 11 years after he filed it.
His lawyer, like those of other death row prisoners, used the "delay is worse than death" argument.
On April 11, the Supreme Court turned down that same argument in the case of Punjab militant Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, who was convicted of a bomb blast in Delhi in 1993 in which nine people were killed. His appeal to have his sentence commuted was turned down by the President after eight years. But in its order, the Supreme Court had said that terrorists cannot seek mercy by citing inordinate delays in the final call on their appeals.
That verdict is expected to impact the cases of more than 15 other death row prisoners, including three men in jail in Tamil Nadu for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and four members of the gang led by sandalwood smuggler Veerappan, who are in prison in Karnataka.