The Supreme Court commuted the death sentences on Tuesday for three killers of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, citing delays in the case 23 years after he was assassinated by a suicide bomber.
The top court headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam handed the three life in prison on the grounds that successive Indian Presidents had taken 11 years to decide their pleas for mercy against execution.
"We implore the government to render advice in a reasonable amount of time for taking a decision on mercy pleas," Sathasivam told the court in announcing the judgement.
A lawyer for the three men — Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan -- hailed the judgement as "humane," adding that they were now living in hope of one day being released from prison.
"There is hope that the convicts will walk out of jail. The remission will be decided by the state government of Tamil Nadu," Yug Chaudhary told NDTV outside the court.
"It is time that the death penalty is abolished in this country," he added.
The decision comes after the Supreme Court issued a landmark judgement commuting the death sentences of 15 convicts, ruling that "inordinate and inexplicable" delays in carrying out a death sentence were grounds for commuting a sentence. The three at the centre of Tuesday's ruling were members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Sri Lankan-based separatist movement, which was wiped out by Sri Lankan forces in 2009.
The men were convicted of plotting the May 21, 1991 murder of Gandhi by a female suicide bomber, but their appeal to the President in 2000 to spare them the hangman's noose was only finally rejected in 2011.