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clemency jurisdiction

Supreme Court of India

Devender Pal Singh Bhullar & Anr vs State Of Nct Of Delhi on 12 April, 2013

Re: Question No. (a):


18. The nature of the power vested in the President under Article 72 and the Governor under Article 161 of the Constitution was considered by the Constitution Bench in Maru Ram’s case. The main question considered in that case was whether the power of remission vested in the Government under Section 433A Cr.P.C. is in conflict with Articles 72 and 162 of the Constitution. While answering the question in the negative, Krishna Iyer, J., who authored the main judgment, observed:


“It is apparent that superficially viewed, the two powers, one constitutional and the other statutory, are coextensive. But two things may be similar but not the same. That is precisely the difference. We cannot agree that the power which is the creature of the Code can be equated with a high prerogative vested by the Constitution in the highest functionaries of the Union and the States. The source is different, the substance is different, the strength is different, although the stream may be flowing along the same bed. We see the two powers as far from being identical, and, obviously, the constitutional power is “untouchable” and “unapproachable” and cannot suffer the vicissitudes of simple legislative processes. Therefore, Section 433-A cannot be invalidated as indirectly violative of Articles 72 and 161. What the Code gives, it can take, and so, an embargo on Sections 432 and 433(a) is within the legislative power of Parliament.

Even so, we must remember the constitutional status of Articles 72 and 161 and it is common ground that Section 433-A does not and cannot affect even a wee bit the pardon power of the Governor or the President. The necessary sequel to this logic is that notwithstanding Section 433-A the President and the Governor continue to exercise the power of commutation and release under the aforesaid articles.

Are we back to square one? Has Parliament indulged in legislative futility with a formal victory but a real defeat? The answer is “yes” and “no”. Why “yes”? Because the President is symbolic, the Central Government is the reality even as the Governor is the formal head and sole repository of the executive power but is incapable of acting except on, and according to, the advice of his Council of Ministers. The upshot is that the State Government, whether the Governor likes it or not, can advice and act under Article 161, the Governor being bound by that advice. The action of commutation and release can thus be pursuant to a governmental decision and the order may issue even without the Governor's approval although, under the Rules of Business and as a matter of constitutional courtesy, it is obligatory that the signature of the Governor should authorise the pardon, commutation or release. The position is substantially the same regarding the President. It is not open either to the President or the Governor to take independent decision or direct release or refuse release of anyone of their own choice. It is fundamental to the Westminster system that the Cabinet rules and the Queen reigns being too deeply rooted as foundational to our system no serious encounter was met from the learned Solicitor-General whose sure grasp of fundamentals did not permit him to controvert the proposition, that the President and the Governor, be they ever so high in textual terminology, are but functional euphemisms promptly acting on and only on the advice of the Council of Ministers have in a narrow area of power. The subject is now beyond controversy, this Court having authoritatively laid down the law in Shamsher Singh case (1974) 2 SCC 831. So, we agree, even without reference to Article 367(1) and Sections 3(8)(b) and 3(60)(b) of the General Clauses Act, 1897, that, in the matter of exercise of the powers under Articles 72 and 161, the two highest dignitaries in our constitutional scheme act and must act not on their own judgment but in accordance with the aid and advice of the ministers. Article 74, after the 42nd Amendment silences speculation and obligates compliance. The Governor vis-à-vis his Cabinet is no higher than the President save in a narrow area which does not include Article 161. The constitutional conclusion is that the Governor is but a shorthand expression for the State Government and the President is an abbreviation for the Central Government.” (emphasis supplied)

19. The proposition laid down in Maru Ram’s case was reiterated by another Constitution Bench in Kehar Singh’s case in the following words:


“The Constitution of India, in keeping with modern constitutional practice, is a constitutive document, fundamental to the governance of the country, whereby, according to accepted political theory, the people of India have provided a constitutional polity consisting of certain primary organs, institutions and functionaries to exercise the powers provided in the Constitution. All power belongs to the people, and it is entrusted by them to specified institutions and functionaries with the intention of working out, maintaining and operating a constitutional order. The Preambular statement of the Constitution begins with the significant recital:

“We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic ... do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.” To any civilised society, there can be no attributes more important than the life and personal liberty of its members. That is evident from the paramount position given by the courts to Article 21 of the Constitution. These twin attributes enjoy a fundamental ascendancy over all other attributes of the political and social order, and consequently, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary are more sensitive to them than to the other attributes of daily existence. The deprivation of personal liberty and the threat of the deprivation of life by the action of the State is in most civilised societies regarded seriously and, recourse, either under express constitutional provision or through legislative enactment is provided to the judicial organ. But, the fallibility of human judgment being undeniable even in the most trained mind, a mind resourced by a harvest of experience, it has been considered appropriate that in the matter of life and personal liberty, the protection should be extended by entrusting power further to some high authority to scrutinise the validity of the threatened denial of life or the threatened or continued denial of personal liberty. The power so entrusted is a power belonging to the people and reposed in the highest dignitary of the State. In England, the power is regarded as the royal prerogative of pardon exercised by the Sovereign, generally through the Home Secretary. It is a power which is capable of exercise on a variety of grounds, for reasons of State as well as the desire to safeguard against judicial error. It is an act of grace issuing from the Sovereign. In the United States, however, after the founding of the Republic, a pardon by the President has been regarded not as a private act of grace but as a part of the constitutional scheme. In an opinion, remarkable for its erudition and clarity, Mr Justice Holmes, speaking for the Court in W.I. Biddle v. Vuco Perovich (71 L Ed 1161) enunciated this view, and it has since been affirmed in other decisions. The power to pardon is a part of the constitutional scheme, and we have no doubt, in our mind, that it should be so treated also in the Indian Republic. It has been reposed by the people through the Constitution in the Head of the State, and enjoys high status. It is a constitutional responsibility of great significance, to be exercised when occasion arises in accordance with the discretion contemplated by the context. It is not denied, and indeed it has been repeatedly affirmed in the course of argument by learned counsel, Shri Ram Jethmalani and Shri Shanti Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners that the power to pardon rests on the advice tendered by the Executive to the President, who subject to the provisions of Article 74(1) of the Constitution, must act in accordance with such advice.” (emphasis supplied) In that case, the Constitution Bench also considered whether the President can, in exercise of the power vested in him under Article 72 of the Constitution, scrutinize the evidence on record and come to a different conclusion than the one arrived at by the Court and held: