The Supreme Court today expressed dissatisfaction over the Centre's failure to take a decision so far on the plea that Balwant Singh Rajoana's death penalty in the 1995 assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh be commuted to life imprisonment.

The plea by Rajoana has sought commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment on the ground of his long incarceration of 26 years.

The Apex Court was also unhappy over the submission of the counsel for the Centre that the matter be adjourned.

The time of two months was granted on May 2 (this year). The time has expired long back. However, as submitted by Additional Solicitor General K M Natraj, no decision has been taken by the concerned authority, a Bench comprising Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice J B Pardiwala said and asked the Centre to file an affidavit and listed the matter for Friday.

The moment, we pass a direction; they (the authorities) will have to consider the mercy petition (of Rajaona). Who is the responsible officer? Has the note on the issue been prepared...We cannot force you to take a particular decision. But, you have to make a decision, the CJI, speaking for the Bench, said.

On the submission seeking adjournment of the proceedings by the counsel for the Central government, it said, You know what happens with these matters once they get adjourned... This is what happens with the Registry, the moment we push up one matter, it just goes into the cycle and comes after six months.

It then ordered that an affidavit be filed by a responsible officer of the concerned department indicating the progress made in the matter and listed as the first item on Friday, the Court said.

The Court, on May 2, had asked the Centre to decide within two months on the commutation plea filed on behalf of Rajoana in the case. Later, in terms of a letter of July 27, 2022, circulated by the counsel for the Centre, the matter was adjourned to September 13.

Earlier, the Apex Court did not consider the submission of the Centre that the death row convict has been on record in saying that he has no faith in the Indian judiciary and the Constitution and these are relevant factors.

These all are our citizens and we must have compassion when we are dealing with our citizens especially when it is a death sentence matter, the bench had said.

It had said the pendency of appeals of other co-accused in the apex court in the case would not come in the way of authorities in deciding Rajoana's mercy plea.

Without getting into the controversy whether the petitioner (Rajoana) himself preferred the mercy petition, we consider the communication on record and the fact that the petitioner has preferred the writ petition, it had said.

In our view, there would be no obstruction in the light of the direction of this court, and the matter could be and had to be considered despite the pendency of the appeal by the co-accused, the Bench had said.

It had then directed the authorities to consider the mercy plea without being influenced by the fact that the appeal on behalf of the co-accused is pending consideration before this court. Let the decision be taken as early as possible preferably within two weeks from today. List the matter in the second week of July 2022.

The counsel for Rajoana had said the death row convict has been in jail for nearly 26 years, and not deciding on his prayer for commutation of the death penalty into life term itself is flawed under Article 21.

He had said the convict is entitled to a decision from the court on his plea and "I am entitled to a decision from this court.

Earlier also, the top court had questioned the Centre over the delay in sending a proposal to the President for commuting the death sentence of Rajoana.

It had asked the government to apprise it as to when the authorities concerned will send the proposal to the President under Article 72 of the Constitution which deals with the power of the President to grant pardon, suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases.

Rajoana, a former Punjab Police constable, was convicted for his involvement in an explosion outside the Punjab civil secretariat that killed Beant Singh and 16 others on August 31, 1995. A special court in July 2007 awarded the death sentence to Rajoana in the case.

With PTI inputs