New Delhi: The Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday defended its granting mercy to some death row convicts saying the power to pardon is not a private act of grace by the President but a part of the constitutional scheme of things.
"Article 72 does confer on the President the power to grant clemency. However, in the exercise of these powers, the President is not supposed to act on her own judgment but is mandated to act in accordance with the aid and advice of the government in terms of Article 74 of the Constitution. The advice of the government is binding on the Head of State," the Secretariat said in a statement.
The statement was issued in the wake of critical reports in the media about the decision of President Pratibha Patil to grant clemency to some death row convicts some of whom are "brutal criminals".
"These reports stem from a lack of correct appreciation of the constitutional provisions and the related court judgments in the matter," the statement from Archana Dutta, OSD (PR) to President Pratibha Patil said.
"Thus, the power to pardon is a part of the constitutional scheme and not a private act of grace on the part of the President. When the President is expected to work as part of the constitutional scheme, the word, President, is an abbreviation for the central government," it said.
The statement said that to say that the President acted in haste or played to the gallery while handling mercy petitions is "misconstrued".
"The allegation of non-application of mind in the disposal of mercy petitions is factually incorrect and misleading. The President has disposed clemency petitions only after due examination on receipt of the aid and advice of the Home Minister," it said.
The President's Secretariat said while the power under Article 72 of the Constitution does not contain any timeframe to decide mercy petitions, the Supreme Court has observed in certain recent cases that delay in disposal of mercy petitions may be minimized and that the condemned prisoners have a very pertinent right in insisting that a decision in the matter be taken within a reasonable time.
"Furthermore, as several mercy petition cases remained un-decided for over a decade, the matter was also discussed in Parliament in February, 2011, and government made its intent clear to expedite decisions on mercy petitions," it said.
The statement said "given this background, it would be misconceived to view the steps taken by the central government and the President to dispose of the pending mercy petitions as playing to the gallery or an act in haste".
"All the 23 backlog cases pertaining to the terms of the former Presidents were recalled and re-visited by the present Home Minister and fresh advice tendered for due consideration of the President," it said.
The Secretariat said in all these backlog and fresh cases, the Home Minister has examined the mitigating and extenuating circumstances and spelt out specific reasons substantiating his considered advice.
"In turn, the President took well-considered decisions after having been fully satisfied that the government has tendered its aid and advice, properly and constitutionally," the statement said.
It said a "queer pitch has been created as though many brutal criminals have been shown mercy and released".
"It is common knowledge that all death convicts seeking mercy are those who have committed ghastly and heinous crimes of the 'rarest of the rare' category. Nevertheless, the Constitution confers on them the right to seek clemency.
It said courts have held that clemency by the President does not wipe out the offence or disaffirm the judicial verdict.