The Supreme Court will hear on February 27 a writ petition filed by the Centre on Monday, challenging the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to release the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
On the Centre’s application, the court had stayed the release of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, whose death sentence was commuted. That application had not sought a stay on the release of Nalini, Robert Pius, Jayakumar and Ravichandran. Monday’s petition raised substantial questions of law such as whether the State or the Union was the appropriate government to grant remission.
It said Tamil Nadu was not the appropriate government to consider remission as mandated under Section 435 of the Cr. PC.
On a mention made by Additional Solicitor-General Siddharth Luthra, a Bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi posted the matter for hearing on February 27.
The Centre’s move came after the apex court had said it could file a fresh petition regarding the other four prisoners whose sentence has also been remitted by the Tamil Nadu government.
The Tamil Nadu government had on February 19 decided to set free all the seven convicts in the assassination case.
Santhan, Murugan and Arivu are currently lodged in the Central Prison, Vellore, in Tamil Nadu and they are in jail since 1991.
The other four are undergoing life sentence for their role in Gandhi’s assassination on May 21, 1991 in Sriperumbudur.
The bench had on February 20 issued notice to Tamil Nadu government, Inspector General of Prisons, Chennai, Superintendent of Central Prison, Vellore and the convicts - V Sriharan alias Murugan, T Suthendraraja alias Santhan and A G Perarivalan alias Arivu - for March 6.
The apex court had commuted the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan (both Sri Lankan Tamils) and Arivu on the ground of 11-year delay in deciding their mercy plea by the Centre.
Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins were convicted by a TADA court in January 1998 and were awarded death sentence, which was confirmed by the apex court May 11, 1999.
The bench had earlier expressed surprise on how the state government claimed to have fulfilled all the procedures within a day after the apex court commuted the death sentence of three prisoners.
It had said that the commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment cannot automatically result in remission of the sentence and the proper procedure laid down in the law has to be followed before releasing the prisoners from jail.
Earlier, Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran had said the procedures were not followed and the decision was taken in a hurry by the state government.
He had said the state government was not authorised to deal with the release of convicts as they were held guilty under the central laws.
He had said the state government should not be allowed to release the prisoners till the apex court decided its review petition challenging commutation of death sentence of three condemned prisoners to life imprisonment on ground of delay in deciding mercy petitions.
The court after hearing his arguments had said that all procedural checks laid down in the law have not been followed by the state government and it will examine the issue raised by the Centre.
Making it clear that it was not taking away the power of the state government to remit sentence, the bench, at the same time, had said that the states have to follow the procedures.
Senior advocate Rakesh Diwedi, who had appeared for Tamil Nadu, had strongly opposed the plea of the Centre, saying that the state government had not taken a final decision on the issue.