As the recent 'rejections' of mercy pleas of death row convicts have brought the capital punishment issue into focus, Union home minister P Chidambaram on Thursday said it (relevance of death penalty) was a larger question that needed to be debated.
Responding to a question, he said: "As long as there is a death penalty, courts will impose death penalty in what they call the rarest of the rare cases. So, the courts have imposed death penalty and all the mercy petitions were the cases where death penalty was imposed.
He added, "The only cases that come to us are death penalty cases. So, whether death penalty should be in statute book or not, on that of course there are two views. But, at the moment, we are talking about administering the law."
On the controversy over Tamil Nadu Assembly resolution asking the President to reconsider the mercy pleas of Rajiv Gandhi's assassins, the home minister said: "Since there are court proceedings, I can't comment on anything concerning the decision taken by the President or the resolution passed by the assembly". He also declined to comment when asked if the issue of mercy petitions has been politicized.
The home minister, however, said there have been precedents when people have moved courts after rejection of mercy petitions of death row convicts by the President.
"There have been earlier cases where after the decision of the President, people have gone to the courts. People have gone to court in Assam and people moved court in Delhi recently. I am sure that in the past also there would be cases where people have gone to courts after the President's decision," he said.
The home minister also gave an exhaustive presentation on the mercy petitions of the death row convicts since the NDA regime and said when the Opposition was in power, 14 mercy pleas were submitted to the President but not a single one was decided in those six years.
"After the UPA (government) was formed, my predecessor (Shivraj Patil) resubmitted the 14 cases and submitted 14 more cases. So, he submitted a total 28 cases to the President. Two cases were decided out of 28. So, that explains roughly 10 years and a few months," he said.
Chidambaram said he has inherited 26 cases that have been submitted along with a few more cases. After discussions with the President, he said, as desired by the President, he re-examined all the cases and resubmitted 23 of them to the President for decision.
"The President's decision was received in 13 cases. I think in UPA-II, we have done our best to clear the arrears that had accumulated and tried to take the process forward as fast as we can", he said.