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Why demands for Bhullar's release have come up this election season in Punjab?

  In jail since 1994, Bhullar’s request for permanent release has been pending with the AAP-run Delhi government

With Punjab heading into a crucial election, Sikh bodies and activists have been submitting memorandums to AAP candidates, asking questions on their long-pending demand for the permanent release of Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar, a death convict in the 1993 Delhi bomb blasts case. In jail since 1994, Bhullar's request for permanent release has been pending with the AAP-run Delhi government. Death sentence to life term In March 2002, the Supreme Court had dismissed Bhullar's appeal against the death sentence awarded by a trial court and endorsed by the Delhi HC. The following year, the apex court rejected Bhullar's curative petition, following which he filed a mercy plea before the President. With then president Pratibha Patil rejecting his mercy petition in May 2011, Bhullar's family again moved the Supreme Court seeking commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment on grounds of delay in rejection of his mercy plea. The Supreme Court again rejected the plea in 2013. Finally, on March 31, 2014, the Supreme Court, while reviewing its 2013 order, commuted Bhullar's death sentence to life on grounds of inordinate delay in deciding his mercy petition.

Political 'untouchable' to rallying point:
In August 2009, Bhullar's lawyer Navkiran Singh filed an application with the Home departments of Delhi and Punjab, requesting Bhullar be shifted to his home state as he was suffering from depression, hypertension and arthritis. However, the then Akali Dal-BJP government in Punjab had refused to accommodate Bhullar in Punjab jails. The government also filed an affidavit in the SC calling Bhullar "hardened and experienced criminal, with well organized international support, and a terrorist." However, as a campaign run by Bhullar's family and Sikh bodies to commute the death sentence started gaining popular support, in 2013, former Punjab CM and Akali veteran Parkash Singh Badal asked then PM Manmohan Singh to commute the death sentence of Bhullar. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal also won praise from Sikh bodies for supporting clemency for Bhullar. Finally, after the SC commuted Bhullar's death sentence to life term, in 2015, while the Congress objected, the SAD-BJP government in Punjab and the AAP government in Delhi coordinated to transfer Bhullar from Tihar jail to Amritsar Central jail. After 23 years, Bhullar got his first parole in April 2016 and has since frequently come out on parole.

Demand for permanent release:
In October 2019, the Centre had issued a communique, on the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, for release of eight Sikh prisoners, including Bhullar. The Centre had asked the respective state governments/ UTs to carry out the remission in consultation with the Centre. However, in 2020, the Sentence Review Board of the Delhi government thrice rejected the permanent release request of Bhullar. Recently, however, AAP's Bhagwant Mann had claimed that Bhullar's file for permanent release was pending with Delhi LG. He, however, later said the Delhi government would decide "once the legal process gets over".



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