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SC fumes over NHRC's clemency prod

SC fumes over NHRC's clemency prod

Author: Dhananjay Mahapatra
Publication: The Times of India
Date: July 15, 2008

Introduction: Asks How It Can Sit In Appeal over Its Judgment

The Supreme Court on Monday saw red over the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recommending clemency to a condemned prisoner, whose appeal as well as review petition against death penalty in a murder case was turned down by it.

One Ramdeo Chauhan was convicted in a murder case and was awarded death penalty by an Assam trial court and the conviction as well as sentence was upheld by the high court.

When the appeal before the apex court was dismissed, Chauhan filed a review petition, which was dismissed by a three-judge bench of the apex court, though one of the judges felt that he should be awarded life sentence. Though it dismissed his appeal, the bench said the Assam government was at liberty to consider clemency if such a petition was made by the convict.

Interestingly, a newspaper article mentioned that Chauhan at the time of crime was a juvenile. Taking suo motu notice of this, the NHRC looked into the case and recommended to the Assam government that it could remit the sentence to life imprisonment instead of death penalty.

Acting on this, the Assam cabinet in 2002 recommended to the governor to exercise his constitutional power and convert Chauhan's death penalty to life sentence.

This was objected to by a relative of the person who was murdered by Chauhan. The relative, Bani Kant Das, moved a writ petition before the apex court questioning the Assam government's decision and demanded that the death penalty be restored.

A bench comprising Justices Arijit Pasayat and M K Sharma took serious objection to the NHRC's meddling and wanted to know from the apex human rights body's counsel how the commission could exercise jurisdiction over the decisions of the apex court.

"How did the NHRC come into the picture in a matter that was strictly in the domain of the judiciary and the government? How can the NHRC sit in appeal over the judgments of the apex court? Where did it get the power to recommend a governor of a state to consider grant of clemency?" were the volley of questions fired by the bench.

It adjourned hearing on Das' petition while asking the NHRC counsel to produce the records of proceedings leading to the recommendation for clemency.

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