India’s former president Pranab Mukherjee has said he rejected Afzal Guru’s mercy petition on the then Congress government’s advice as he could not have assumed the role of the court which had already considered the death sentence at various stages.
Mukherjee, who is against the continuation of the death sentence, also insisted that it was for lawmakers to amend the law and abolish capital punishment, which is in the Indian Penal Code. During his tenure from 2012 to 2017, Mukherjee rejected 30 mercy pleas.
“Before a mercy petition comes to the President, it passes through various stages and different actions had already been taken. The President goes by the advice of the government,” he told Hindustan Times in an interview.
“If the government advises rejection of the mercy petition, the President naturally will go by that. The President cannot assume the role of the court which had already considered the death sentence at various stages.”
A trial court sentenced Afzal, then studying medicine, to death on December 18, 2002, for his “role in the terror attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001.”
The Delhi high court later confirmed the sentence, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2004. The sentence was to be carried out on October 20, 2006 in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, but a mercy petition by the family to the President stayed it. Guru was finally hanged in Tihar Jail on February 9, 2013 after Mukherjee rejected his mercy petition on February 3 that year.
“I did not believe in keeping the files without taking any action. I disposed them off and accepted the government’s recommendations to reject mercy petitions except in 1 or 2 cases where I discussed with the then home minister and both of us agreed on commuting the death sentence. Rest all, I confirmed,” he said.
Speaking about Kashmir, he said the situation “definitely requires undivided attention” of all those concerned. “We were able to manage the situation during UPA-I and UPA-II. Similarly, this government is also making efforts. Let us see how the situation develops and how problems are resolved.”