New Delhi: The Centre on Wednesday stayed the hanging of Balwant Singh Rajoana, the co-assassin of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh. The decision to stay Rajoana's hanging, which was to be carried out on March 31 at the Patiala Central Jail, was announced after Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal met President Pratibha Patil seeking clemency for him.
"We had appealed to the Centre asking for clemency for Rajoana. That's why we met the President and the Prime Minister today. The President had referred the matter to the Home Ministry. The execution has been stayed till the judicial process is on," said Badal.
Union Home Ministry sources told CNN-IBN that since two mercy petitions have been filed for Rajoana, the Centre has stayed the execution. Rajoana's case will be taken up as per the rules and then his clemency would be considered by the President, the sources added.
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said that he had received a letter from the Home Ministry staying the execution till the time Rajoana's petition isn't dismissed by the Supreme Court.
The Rajoana case had forced the political parties in Punjab to take a stand on the issue. While the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) backed Rajoana seeking clemency, SAD key ally the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress maintained that the law should take its course.
Radical outfits had also called for a day-long general strike in Punjab to protest against Rajoana's hanging on Wednesday. Clashes, too, were reported from Patiala and some other regions of Punjab as tension escalated over the hanging. Several Sikh groups also took out protest marches in Jammu in support of Rajoana, putting pressure on the Punjab government.
The special CBI court had awarded the death sentence to Rajoana and Jagtar Singh Hawara in the Beant Singh case on August one, 2007. Three others - Lakhwinder Singh, Gurmit Singh and Shamsher Singh - were sentenced to life imprisonment for hatching the conspiracy to kill Beant Singh.
The Chandigarh court had issued the death warrant to the Patiala jail authorities, asking them to hang Rajoana on March 31. Rajoana did not appeal against the judgement. The death penalty of Hawara, who filed an appeal against it, was commuted to life term.
(With additional information from PTI)