Rajiv Gandhi murder case: Governor can rule on convicts’ plea, says SC

The probe need not deter the Tamil Nadu Governor from deciding the plea for pardon of convicts like A.G. Perarivalan, says Bench

November 03, 2020 01:42 pm | Updated November 04, 2020 11:57 am IST - NEW DELHI:

A.G. Perarivalan is serving life sentence in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. File

A.G. Perarivalan is serving life sentence in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. File

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said the Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) investigation into the “larger conspiracy” behind Rajiv Gandhi assassination in 1991 need not deter the Tamil Nadu Governor from deciding the plea for pardon of convicts like A.G. Perarivalan, who have been serving their sentence in jail for over two decades.

“Larger conspiracy probe is only to prove if any other people are involved. It is not for them [people already convicted],” Justice L. Nageswara Rao, leading a three-judge Bench, observed orally.

Also read: Centre opposes release of Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts

Turning to Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj, appearing for Centre, the judge asked “this larger conspiracy investigation is pending for the past 20 years... Still you are waiting for details from U.K., Thailand?”

The court was responding to submissions made by Mr. Nataraj that the scope of the MDMA probe extended to many countries and was still on.

Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, for Perarivalan, said the status reports filed about the MDMA probe was a “copy-paste” of earlier such reports. The court in January this year had said the body was yet to conclude its investigation pertaining to the origin and make of the bomb which killed the former Prime Minister.

Also read: Rajiv assassination case convict Nalini allegedly threatens to end life

The court made it clear during the hearing that it was reluctant to exercise its jurisdiction when the Governor was already seized of Perarivalan’s plea for pardon under Article 161 of the Constitution.

“Why don’t you ask the Governor to pass orders without our intervention?” Justice Rao asked.

Perarivalan had applied to the Governor for pardon on December 30, 2015. Almost three years later, on September 2018, the Supreme Court asked the Governor to decide the pardon plea as he “deemed fit”. Three days later after this court order, on September 9, the Tamil Nadu Cabinet recommended to the Governor to remit Perarivalan’s sentence and release him forthwith.

“However, it seems neither the recommendation was signed by the Tamil Nadu Governor neither the order of September 6 has been honoured by the Governor for the past two years,” an application filed by Perarivalan, through advocate Prabu Ramasubramanium, said.

Also read: Rajiv assassination case convict’s wife cannot enter India, MEA tells Madras High Court

On January 20, the Supreme Court had sought information from Tamil Nadu, represented by Additional Advocate General Balaji Srinivasan and Yogesh Kanna, on the steps taken by the Governor pursuant to the September 6 order and the Cabinet’s recommendation. In February, the State government informed the court that the Cabinet recommendation had been sent to the Governor for his signature. The court had responded by asking the State to ensure that the Cabinet decision to release Perarivalan was enforced.

On Tuesday, Justice Rao’s Bench agreed to hear the case in detail after the Deepavali vacation. It listed the case on November 23.

Perarivalan has contended that his role in the alleged crime taken to the maximum would be that of supplying two nine-volt batteries without the knowledge of what it was going to be used for. He had said his confession under the lapsed TADA to a police officer was not valid evidence.

‘Grave prejudice’

Alleging that “a grave prejudice” has been caused on him, Perarivalan said he was a “19-year-old boy when his mother handed him over to the CBI and now he is 45 years old, lost all his prime youth in prison that too in death row under solitary confinement for more than 16 years”. He said his “aged mother and father are waiting for their only son to join at least in the last years of their life”.

Describing his case as “unique” and relating the harsh circumstances under which he pursued an education in prison, he said his health has taken a severe beating from the effects of “death row syndrome”.

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