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  • Why in News- The Supreme Court has directed States and other authorities not to delay their decision on mercy petitions filed by death row convicts, to avoid the condemned persons from gaining any advantage or benefit from the hold­up. 
  • The order was based on an appeal by the State of Maharashtra against a Bombay High Court decision to commute the death penalty of Renuka Shinde to life sentence after her mercy plea was kept pending with the Governor for seven years and 10 months for “unexplained” reasons. 
  • The Bench did not interfere with the High Court’s decision to commute the death penalty but ordered that the woman should serve her sentence for the entirety of her natural life without remission. 
  • The bench also said unexplained and prolonged delay in deciding mercy pleas was a valid ground to commute the death penalty into life imprisonment.
  • Pardoning Power
  1. Pardoning Power of the President in India:
  • Under Article 72 of the Constitution, the President shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence where the sentence is a sentence of death.
  • Limitation:
    • The President cannot exercise his power of pardon independent of the government.
    • In several cases, the SC has ruled that the President has to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers while deciding mercy pleas. These include Maru Ram vs Union of India in 1980, and Dhananjoy Chatterjee vs State of West Bengal in 1994.
  • Reconsideration:
    • Although the President is bound by the Cabinet’s advice, Article74 (1) empowers him to return it for reconsideration once. If the Council of Ministers decides against any change, the President has no option but to accept it.
  1. Governor’s Pardoning Power:
  • Article 161: The Governor of a State shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the State extends.
  • Difference Between Pardoning Powers of President and Governor:
  • The scope of the pardoning power of the President under Article 72 is wider than the pardoning power of the Governor under Article 161 which differs in the following two ways:
    • Court Martial: The power of the President to grant pardon extends in cases where the punishment or sentence is by a Court Martial but Article 161 does not provide any such power to the Governor.

Death sentence: The President can grant pardon in all cases where the sentence given is the sentence of death but the pardoning power of the Governor does not extend to death sentence cases.