Cannot release Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts, Centre informs Supreme Court

It was an unparalleled act in the annals of crimes committed in this country, the Centre has told the Tamil Nadu government.

August 10, 2018 12:30 pm | Updated 01:59 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Nalini Sriharan, one of the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assasination case. File

Nalini Sriharan, one of the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assasination case. File

The Supreme Court on Friday accepted on record a communication from the Central government rejecting a proposal made by the Tamil Nadu government to release seven convicts undergoing life imprisonment in the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

The assassination was an unparalleled act in the annals of crimes committed in this country, the Centre, in a letter, has told the State government.

“The brutal act brought the Indian democratic process to a grinding halt inasmuch as the general elections to the Lok Sabha and Assemblies in some States had to be postponed,” the Centre said.

“Assassination showed exceptional depravity”

It noted that 16 innocent lives were lost and many sustained grievous injuries in the “gruesome, inhuman, uncivilised and mericless bomb blast.” The assassination showed “exceptional depravity,” including the use of a woman as a human bomb, the letter said.

A three-judge Bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Navin Sinha and K.M. Joseph received the April 2018 letter.

The Centre explained to Tamil Nadu that setting the convicts free now would be a “dangerous precedent and lead to international ramifications by other such criminals in future.”

The State government wrote to the Centre on March 2, 2016, proposing the grant of remission for the convicts. It wanted the Centre to concur.

Failing to reply for almost two years, the Centre’s response in April came after a Supreme Court order asked it to do so.

In the two-page response, the Centre said it considered Tamil Nadu’s proposal in consultation with the CBI. The assassination was “brutal” and “in pursuance of a diabolical plot carefully considered and executed by a highly organised foreign terrorist organisation.”

It conveyed that the CBI, which investigated the case, was also opposed to releasing them in the interest of justice. The case has already been reviewed in the highest forums of the judiciary and executive, all agreeing to the guilt of the convicts, said the Centre.

Tamil Nadu's remission proposal

Tamil Nadu first proposed remission for the convicts in a letter dater February 19, 2014. This spurred the Centre to move the Supreme Court. It triggered the question whether a State could unilaterally remit life sentence in a case investigated by a central agency like the CBI, as in this case.

On December 2, 2015, a five-judge Constitution Bench led by then Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu interpreted the law to hold that the States cannot unilaterally remit the sentences of life convicts in cases investigated by a central agency under a central law.

The Bench, however, left the factual question of whether the seven convicts deserve remission or not to a three-judge Bench.

The three-judge Bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, A.M. Sapre and Navin Sinha decided that since the State’s letter of 2014 was still pending with the Centre, the latter should now take a decision.

The Constitution Bench, speaking through Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla, had interpreted Section 435 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which dealt with remissions for life convicts.

The majority judgment of the Constitution Bench said the word “consultation” in the provision actually meant “concurrence.” The Bench ruled that consultation with the Centre in heinous cases should not be an empty formality as national interest was at stake.

In a 200-page majority judgment, Justice Kalifulla repeatedly made scathing references about the convicts but stopped short of deciding the merits of Tamil Nadu’s remission request.

Now, the court is deciding the convicts’ remission independently without being slightly influenced by the negative remarks made by the Constitution Bench.

Move to release three convicts stayed

On February 20, 2014, the court stayed Tamil Nadu’s move to release three convicts — Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan — whose death sentences were commuted to life term by it on February 18 in the case.

Later on, it stayed the release of convicts Nalini, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran in the case, saying there were procedural lapses on the part of the State government.

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