The Supreme Court on Thursday issued notices to the Centre and others on a plea for transfer out of Madras High Court the petition by three condemned prisoners against their death sentences in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

A bench of justices G S Signhvi and H L Dattu while also issuing notices to Tamil Nadu government and the three death row convicts sought replies within two weeks following a plea that the petition be taken up by the apex court or any other high court for further hearing.

On a petition by the three death row convicts, the Madras High Court earlier had stayed their hanging and had issued notices to the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government, seeking their replies on the petition.

The convicts -- Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan alias Arivu -- had challenged the sentence despite the same having been upheld earlier by the apex court and the President having rejected their mercy pleas subsequently.

The notices were issued on a petition by L. K. Venkata that the writ petition challenging the death sentence cannot be heard in a free and fair atmosphere alleging that several supporters of the banned LTTE are interfering with the judicial function by raising slogans in support of the convicts.

According to the petitioner, on August 30, when the Madras High Court took up the convicts’ petition, about 5,000 people gathered in the court premises and disturbed the proceedings.

The transfer petition alleged that even the state government, besides various political leaders, are directly or indirectly supporting the cause of the convicts.

In their plea to the high court, the three death row convicts had challenged their sentence saying that the 11-year delay in deciding their mercy plea was inhuman.

The petitioners’ main contention was that the delay in disposal of the mercy petitions by 11 years and four months made the execution of the death sentence “unduly harsh and excessive,” amounting to violation of their right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. The sentence of death after 20 years of incarceration was “unjust and inhuman.”

The trio’s plea had led the high court to stay their execution, slated for September 9.

The transfer petition said soon after the high court stayed the execution, there were joyous shouts inside and outside.

“Slogans were raised on the court premises. Crackers were burst in front of the court,” said Mr. Venkata in his petition.

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