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July 12 2010 | INDIA

Former President Kalam calls for national debate on death penalty.

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Indian Express

Kalam calls for debate on death penalty

While President Pratibha Patil has made it clear that she wouldn't like to clear the entire backlog of mercy petitions pending with her, former President A P J Abdul Kalam on Monday suggested a national debate on the issue of death penalty.

"Certainly there are divergent views (on whether the country should persist with death penalty or do away with it as has been done by many countries). There should be a bigger national debate, preferably in

Parliament," he said.

While 139 countries have already abolished death penalty, India is among the 50-odd countries that still retains it. However, there is now a move afoot to change the mode of administering death from hanging to injection.

Kalam was responding to a question by The Indian Express on the sidelines of the annual lecture organised by the National Commission for Minorities (NCM).

Asked for his views on the issue of Presidents sitting on mercy pleas indefinitely — when he demitted office at the end of his 5-year tenur he left behind almost 2 dozen mercy petitions for his successor —Kalam said, "The Constitution bestows the power on the President."

Under Article 72, which deals with the subject of President's power to grant mercy to a convict on death row, there is no time limit within which the President must clear the case. This is one reason why except for the late Shankar Dayal Sharma, who cleared all pending files during his tenure, no other President has cleared the backlog of cases. While Kalam cleared just 2 cases — turning down the mercy plea of Dhananjoy Chatterjee of West Bengal, who had been sentenced to death for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Hetal Parekh and granting mercy to one Kheraj Ram — the late K R Narayanan didn’t clear any file during his five-year term from July 1997 to July 2002.

When he was the President, Kalam had written to the government, suggesting a pardon for a majority of individuals on death row who had filed mercy petitions with Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Early this year, President Pratibha Patil, who inherited a long list of mercy petitions when she took over, categorically told the Central government that the onus of clearing the backlog was not on her. In fact, she has also been pushing the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to do a rethink on its recommendations with regard to those pending mercy petitions where it had earlier recommended that the mercy pleas be turned down.

In fact, after her meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, the MHA has already changed its stance in at least 3 mercy pleas, recommending in all three cases that the death sentence awarded to the convicts be changed into life imprisonment without parole.

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