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Amit Shah’s Reply on Balwant Singh Rajoana’s Death Sentence Is Bound to Create Confusion

December 3, 2019 | By

Chandigarh: Replying to a question raised by Ludhiana MP Ravneet Singh Bittu about death sentence of Sikh political prisoner Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana, Home Minister of Government of India (GoI) Amit Shah has added more confusion to the issue.

What Ravneet Bittu Asked:

The Congress MP asked Amit Shah in Lok Sabha today that why he ‘pardoned’ the death sentence of Balwnat Singh Rajoana (Amit Shah ji please mera javab deejiye, aap ne Punjab valon ko keon Balwant Singh Rajoana ko fansi maaf ki hai).

What Amit Shah Said:

Replying to this question, Amit Shah said “Please do not go by media reports, no pardon has been done” (Aap please media report par na jaiye, koi maafi ki nahi gai).

Term ‘Maafi’ is used:

It is notable that the term ‘Maafi’ was used by Ravneet Bittu in his question and same term was used by Amit Shah in his reply.

What Maafi could Mean: Term Maafi could mean both – ‘pardon’ or ‘commute’. Both ‘pardon‘ and ‘commute‘ are used in Article 72 and Article 161 of the Indian constitution while defining constitutional powers of the president of India and governors of the states.

Difference Between ‘Pardon’ and ‘Commute’:

While pardon means ‘the action of forgiving or being forgiven for an error or offence’; commutation means “reduce a sentence, especially a sentence of death, to another less severe sentence’.

Context/Issue:

It is pertinent to note here that Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana was sentenced to death in former Punjab CM Beant Singh execution case.

A constitutional review petition filed against his death sentence was pending with the president of India since 2012 under Article 72 of the Constitution of India.

In September 2019 the Union government announced to process the proposal of commutation of death sentence of a Sikh prisoner to imprisonment for life, and grant release to eight Sikh prisoners.

But the government had not released the names of concerned Sikh prisoners, including the name of Sikh prisoner whose death sentence was to be commuted imprisonment for life.

What Letter issued by Deputy Secretary of Home Ministry:

A letter (dated 11/Oct/2019) issued by a deputy secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs (GoI) says that ‘death sentence of one Sikh prisoner may be commuted to life’. It further states that the name of Sikh prisoner, whose death sentence was to be converted to life, was mentioned in Annexure.

“I am directed to say that on the occasion of commemoration of 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the Government of India has decided that 8 Sikh prisoners may be granted special remission and death sentence of one Sikh prisoner may be commuted to life. The details of 9 Sikh prisoners are given at Annexure”.

“It has been decided that 8 Sikh prisoner be given special remission under Article 161 of the Constitution and released from prison. The proposal for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment of one prisoner is to be processed under Article 72 of the Constitution of India. The Government/Union Territory Administration concerned and Centre-State Division of Ministry of Home Affairs are requested to take all required action in this regard”, the letter reads further.

READ FULL LETTER AND ANNEXURE:
MHA Letter and List about release of Sikh Political Prisoners

Whose Name Was There in Annexure:

The 3 page Annexure attached to the aforementioned letter of Deputy Secretary of Ministry of Home Affairs mentions the case of Balwant Singh Rajoana under heading “Case of Commutation of Death Sentence to Life Imprisonment“.

Why Amit Shah’s Comment is Bound to Cause Confusion:

Amit Shah’s comment is bound to cause confusion.  Firstly, the confusion will be there due to meaning of term Maafi – because this term may be used to mean both ‘pardon’ and ‘commute’.

Secondly, the confusion will be there with regard to the process for commutation; because Deputy secretary’s letter says “the proposal for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment of one prisoner is to be processed under Article 72 of the Constitution of India”. Government of India did not disclose that whether this process is complete yet or not.

Confused Media Report Are Already Out :- Two set of media reports are already out –

  • Media Reports Saying Sentence Not Pardoned: Taking Maafi to mean as pardon, a section of media reports has reported that Balwant Singh Rajoana’s death sentence was ‘pardoned’. Economic Times and The Indian Express have reported in these terms.
  • Media Reports Saying Sentence Not Commuted:- Some media reports have reported that Amit Shah said that Balwant Singh Rajoana’s death sentence was not ‘commuted’. The Tribune and Scroll have reported the matter in these terms. It seems that these media sections have taken Maafi to mean as ‘commute’.

Possible Interpretations of Amit Shah’s Comment:

A) When Maafi is taken as Pardon: If term Maafi is taken as pardon then Amit Shah’s comment could be taken as a technical answer to Ravneet Bittu that ‘pardon’ is not granted to Balwant Singh Rajoana, as the Deputy Secretary’s letter mentions the term ‘commute’ and not pardon.

B) When Maafi is taken as ‘Commute/Commutation’: If term Maafi is taken to mean ‘commute’, then Amit Shah’s comment could be taken to mean two things-

B-1) The process is not complete yet – as Deputy Secretary’s letter says that ‘the proposal for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment of one prisoner is to be processed’, first interpretation of Amit Shah’s short comment could be that sentence is not commuted yet as the process may not be complete yet.

B-2)The process is complete and proposal is turned down – the other possible interpretation of Amit Shah’s comment could be that the proposal to commute the death sentence of Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana has been turned down.

CONCLUSION – Amit Shah’s Comment Only Adds to Confusion: Unless further clarification follows from the Government of India, Amit Shah’s comment regarding Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana’s death sentence could only add more confusion on this issue.



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