Pranab had asked Centre to rethink death penalty for Afzal Guru

New Delhi: The procedures of informing the family of the date of the execution and facilitating the last meeting with the convicts were “perhaps… not fully adhered to” in the case of Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon, felt former President Pranab Mukherjee.

As the President, Mukherjee had also asked the then Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde to reconsider the decision of death penalty for Guru but Shinde reiterated the stand of capital punishment, as had his predecessor P Chidambaram, following which the former President had to concur with the home minister’s recommendation.

Mukherjee in his last book ‘The Presidential Years-2012-2017’, published earlier this week, writes on a range of issues including capital punishment. During his tenure as the President, Mukherjee rejected a total of 30 mercy petitions involving nearly 40 convicts, including those of Ajmal Kasab, Yakub Memon and Afzal Guru.

“Normally, the established process is that, once the execution of a convict is decided upon after all legal avenues have been exhausted by the convict and his family, then the convict’s relatives should be informed of the date and time of the execution. If family members—wife or children, for example—wish to visit the convict one last time, that too is facilitated. These formalities were not possible in Kasab’s case since nobody from Pakistan came forward with such requests,” he writes in the book.

He adds, “We also did not hear from Kasab’s mother. However, in the cases of Yakub Memon and Afzal Guru, perhaps these formalities were not fully adhered to.”

Among all the Presidents, Mukherjee turned down the highest number of mercy petitions during his tenure. But one of the highlights of Mukherjee’s presidency in this context was his setting aside the death sentence of four persons convicted of killing 34 upper caste people in 1992.

In his memoir, Mukherjee talks in detail about this rare gesture. These convicts were found guilty in the infamous Bara massacre case where armed men, allegedly Maoists, brutally killed nearly three dozen villagers of the upper-caste Bhumihar community in Bara village in Gaya, Bihar.

“The issue was a matter concerning Dalits and the massacre was some sort of retaliation on the atrocities committed on members of this community by other people.

I recall having gone through the case in great detail, reading the court proceedings and the judgements. The Bara case had left a deep emotional impact on me, but I took the view—as I did in other cases—that my sentiments must not cloud the fact that in decision-making, the actions and functions of the state machinery should be taken into consideration.”

Mukherjee adds that he granted mercy and commuted the death sentence of the four Bara convicts “because I found that the killers had acted in an exceptional frame of mind- even the court had made a similar observation. One of the convicts was very young, and courts usually take into consideration the age factor in deciding on capital punishment.”

The former President also weighed in on the question of the abolition of capital sentence, which was hotly debated during the execution of Guru and Memon.

“I am not very enamoured by the popular sentiment that the death penalty should be scrapped. Deterrence is absolutely needed in the rarest of rare cases,” he writes.

Mercy plea rejections

Among all the Presidents, Mukherjee turned down the most mercy petitions during his tenure. He rejected a total of 30 mercy petitions involving nearly 40 convicts including Azmal Kasab, Yakub Memon and Afzal Guru. (AGENCIES)

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