The Supreme Court commuted the sentence of a Sikh terrorist to life imprisonment on Monday, 21 years after Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar masterminded a car bomb attack that killed nine people in New Delhi.
India’s highest court passed the order following a petition by Bhullar’s wife Nayneet Kaur after a previous mercy plea took eight years to process by the government, a delay deemed unacceptable during Monday’s verdict.
Bhullah was sentenced to death by hanging in August 2001 following the attempted assassination of former Indian Youth Congress head M.S. Bitta, an outspoken critic of the Sikh separatist Khalistan movement which seeks to create a separate state in Punjab.
Bhullah later admitted to the attack which left nine bystanders dead, including two of Bitta’s body guards. Bitta himself escaped with shrapnel wounds.
Two years after receiving the death sentence, Bhullar filed a petition for clemency with the then president of India which was rejected eight years later in 2011.
Congress leader Bitta, who is also head of the All-India Anti-Terrorist Front, criticized the government’s “mishandling of the case” following the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday.
“The leadership of Congress has no sympathy for those who lost their lives in the blast,” he told ucanews.com. “This is a very unfortunate decision of a few Congress leaders.”
Bitta and family members of the victims of the blast were planning to challenge the Supreme Court’s decision, according to people close to Bitta who declined to be identified.
Others including political commentator Harijai Singh welcomed the decision.
“It is in line with the Supreme Court’s own ruling regarding delay in deciding on a mercy petition,” he said.