Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Thursday that the Centre was examining the Tamil Nadu government’s request for freeing the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, but made it clear that the government was constitutionally bound to act by the ruling of the Supreme Court.
This happened a day after the State government wrote to the Centre to seek its opinion — necessary under Section 435 of the Code of Criminal Procedure — on its decision to remit the life sentences of all the seven convicts. “We received a letter from the Tamil Nadu government yesterday [on Wednesday] and we are examining it. But I want to state… that the Supreme Court has given a verdict and to abide by it is our constitutional responsibility, not only constitutional but also moral responsibility,” Mr. Singh told Parliament.
On December 2, 2015, the Supreme Court held that the Centre and not the State government would have the “primacy” and that the States could not exercise suo motu the power to decide whether or not those convicted in the cases investigated by the CBI or another Central agency could be released.
The Congress opposed the AIADMK government’s decision to remit the sentence of the convicts, calling it “very unfortunate”. “The letter should not be entertained at all,” Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said. “The assassins must not be released to uphold the integrity of the country for which Rajivji gave his life.”
However, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi refused to give his opinion, saying it was up to the government to take a call. The DMK, with which the Congress has stitched up an alliance, has also wanted the convicts released. DMK chief M. Karunanidhi has demanded that the Centre take steps for their release.
Members of the Congress and the AIADMK sparred in the Lok Sabha during Zero Hour over the State’s decision. Mr. Kharge demanded a response from Mr. Singh, who was present in the House. If such convicts were freed, other States might make similar demands, Mr. Kharge said. Such a move should not be allowed for the sake of the country’s unity and integrity, he said.
Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters: “We don’t agree with the Tamil Nadu government[’s move]. The Supreme Court has already rejected the plea [for the release of the convicts] of several organisations. We will definitely oppose this move.”
The Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP struck a cautious note. It said a “humane approach” should be adopted given the incarceration period of the seven convicts, but it should be within the legal framework.
How the events unfolded
February 18, 2014
SC commutes the death sentences of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan
February 19, 2014
The Tamil Nadu government announces it will release all seven convicts in the case; writes to the Centre for its views in three days.
February 20, 2014
Centre moves the Supreme Court against Tamil Nadu's decision; the SC stays TN's move to release the convicts.
April 25, 2014
The Supreme Court frames seven constitutional questions for the consideration of a five-judge bench.
December 2, 2015
Supreme Court holds that it the Centre, and not the State, that has "primacy" in deciding if persons convicted in matters of the CBI should be released on remission.