- Balwant Singh Rajoana is a convict in the case of the assassination
- Top court had earlier, too, pulled up centre for dithering on the matter
- Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said Centre still "examining mercy plea"
The Supreme Court today gave the Central government a last chance of two weeks to decide on the mercy plea of Balwant Singh Rajoana, a convict in the case of the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995.
The top court had earlier, too, pulled up the Centre for dithering on the matter. In a hearing on December 4, 2020, it had cited a letter written by the Union Home Ministry to the Punjab government in September 2019, in which the government said that a proposal to commute Rajoana's death sentence would be sent to the President.
"You had written to the Punjab government that his death sentence will be commuted on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti," the Supreme Court bench said back then.
Today, however, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the Centre was still "examining the mercy plea". It sought three more weeks to finalise since the "present circumstances are much better to wait". "A decision now will have some repercussions under the present circumstances, so please adjourn it by three weeks," it told the court.
The bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, however, thought three weeks' time was "unreasonable" and agreed on two final weeks for the government to come to a decision.
Appearing for Rajoana, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi said the man had been in jail for over 25 years and his mercy petition had been pending for the past nine years.
Rajoana, a former Punjab Police constable, was convicted of involvement in an explosion outside the Punjab civil secretariat in Chandigarh that killed Beant Singh and 16 others on August 31, 1995. He was awarded the death sentence by a Chandigarh court in July 2007, which was later upheld by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2010. Rajoana did not appeal against that decision, but instead filed a mercy petition before the President.
The Shiromani Akali Dal had earlier this month urged Rajoana's release. Around the same time, Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, the assassinated Chief Minister's grandson, had said his family will appeal for the convict's release if the Centre withdrew the three farm laws, against which thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, have been protesting for nearly two months now.