Death Penalty Abolition Debate

President has no role to play in Perarivalan’s plea: SC


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Pardoning Powers

Mains level: Pardoning Powers in India

The Supreme Court has disagreed with the Central government’s suggestion that the court should wait till the President took a call on former PM’s assassination case convict A.G. Perarivalan’s mercy plea referred to him by the Tamil Nadu Governor for a decision.

Why in news now?

  • The Bench of the Supreme Court said that the Centre had missed the obvious question posed by the court by a mile.
  • The pertinent question was whether the Governor had, in the first place, the authority to refer the mercy plea to the President.
  • Under Article 161 of the Constitution, the Governor was bound by the aid and advice given by the TN Council of Ministers in September 2018.
  • The Governor prima facie had no authority to transfer the mercy plea to the President.

What does Pardon mean?

  • A pardon is a government/executive decision to allow a person to be absolved of guilt for an alleged crime or other legal offense as if the act never occurred.

Why need a Pardon?

  • Pardons can be granted when individuals are deemed to have demonstrated that they have “paid their debt to society”, or are otherwise considered to be deserving of them.
  • Pardons are sometimes offered to persons who were either wrongfully convicted or who claim that they were wrongfully convicted.
  • Pardons are sometimes seen as a mechanism for combating corruption, allowing a particular authority to circumvent a flawed judicial process to free someone that is seen as wrongly convicted.

What does Article 161 say?

  • Article 161 of the Constitution provides the Governor with the power to remit or commute the sentence of any prisoner.
  • The Governor’s decision will be subject to judicial review by the constitutional courts.

Supreme court’s observations

  • The Constitution Bench in 2015, in a majority decision, had held that the States cannot unilaterally remit the sentences of life convicts in cases investigated by a Central agency under a Central law.
  • The assassination case was probed by the CBI.
  • In compliance with the 2015 verdict, the Tamil Nadu government wrote to the Centre in 2016, proposing the grant of remission to the convicts. The State wanted the Centre to concur.
  • After a wait of over two years, the Centre rejected the State’s proposal, saying this was an unparalleled act in the annals of crimes committed in this country.

Arguments in Perarivalan’s petition seeking pardon

  • Perarivalan had been pleading for release citing that he was 19 when he was arrested.
  • He was the only male child of his parents, there were no records of criminal antecedents, and that he had excellent conduct in his entire prison life.
  • His petition also cited UG and PG degrees, and that he was the university topper, Gold medalist in diploma in DTP, and that he completed more than eight diploma and certificate courses during his prison term.
  • His probation officer gave a report about lapses in recording his confession statement that handed out maximum punishment in his case.

Basis of his innocence

  • Perarivalan cannot be called innocent before the law as he continues to be a convicted prisoner serving imprisonment.
  • He was accused of having bought two battery cells for the LTTE man who masterminded the conspiracy.
  • He was sentenced to death based on this crucial confession statement.

Significance of the convicts’ release

  • The release of seven convicts is a demand raised by not only the ruling party of TN but the main opposition too.
  • All TN politicians voiced that the judiciary should be able to reform and let them live as good citizens to uphold the high values of reformatory justice and restitution.

Back2Basics: Pardoning Powers in India

  • Under the Constitution of India (Article 72), the President of India can grant a pardon or reduce the sentence of a convicted person, particularly in cases involving capital punishment.
  • A similar and parallel power vests in the governors of each state under Article 161.

(1) President

  • Article 72 says that 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.
  • The pardoning powers of the Indian President are elucidated in Art 72 of the Indian Constitution. There are five different types of pardoning which are mandated by law.
  1. Pardon: means completely absolving the person of the crime and letting him go free. The pardoned criminal will be like a normal citizen.
  2. Commutation: means changing the type of punishment given to the guilty into a less harsh one, for example, a death penalty commuted to a life sentence.
  3. Reprieve: means a delay allowed in the execution of a sentence, usually a death sentence, for a guilty person to allow him some time to apply for a Presidential Pardon or some other legal remedy to prove his innocence or successful rehabilitation.
  4. Respite: means reducing the quantum or degree of the punishment to a criminal in view of some special circumstances, like pregnancy, mental condition etc.
  5. Remission: means changing the quantum of the punishment without changing its nature, for example reducing twenty-year rigorous imprisonment to ten years.

(2) Governor

  • As per Article 161, the Governor of a State has 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 against any law.
  • It must be relating to a matter to which the executive power of the state extends.
  • Please note that President can grant pardon to a person awarded death sentence. But a governor of a state does not enjoy this power.


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