The Supreme Court on Thursday disposed of a petition filed by the collateral victims of the bomb blast that killed former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, in 1991.
With the dismissal of this petition, only the decision of Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit stands between the seven convicts found guilty of the assassination and their freedom.
On September 9 last, the Tamil Nadu Cabinet recommended the release of the convicts. The issue of their release is currently pending before the Governor and he had till date refrained from taking a call because of the pendency of the victims' petition in the apex court.
The convicts have served 28 years in jail.Their death penalty was commuted by the apex court to life sentence. The blast claimed 16 lives and left many with grievous injuries. The government had called it a "gruesome, inhuman, uncivilised and merciless bomb blast".
On Thursday, the hearing on the petition was about to be routinely adjourned when senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan and advocate Prabu Ramasubramanium, for one of the convicts, A.G. Perarivalan, intervened. They quickly submitted before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi that the victims' petition has been pending in the apex court since 2014. None of the convicts were made parties in the case despite the fact that it was their fate lying in balance. The petition, itself, has become infructuous, they argued.
When asked why, Mr. Sankaranarayanan referred to a Constitution Bench decision of 2015 in the Sriharan case.
Remission of life convicts
In December, 2015, the five-judge Constitution Bench, led by then Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu, while upholding the Centre's prerogative to decide on the remission of life convicts in centrally probed cases, left it to a three-judge Bench to decide whether the convicts deserved to be set free.
Buoyed by the 2015 verdict, the Tamil Nadu government wrote to the Centre on March 2, 2016 proposing the grant of remission to the convicts. The State government wanted the Centre to concur. In April 2018, after a gap of almost two years, the Centre refused to concur with Tamil Nadu. It went on to call the assassination “an unparalleled act in the annals of crimes committed in this country”.
But the Centre's stand did not deter the apex court from closing the case in September 2018 and leaving the prisoners' fate in the hands of the Tamil Nadu Governor.
Arguing before Chief Justice Gogoi, Mr. Sankaranarayanan submitted that since the three-judge Bench had closed the case, nothing remained in the Supreme Court. The spotlight was on the Governor. The court finally agreed with the lawyer and dismissed the petition.
The petition was filed by S. Abbas, John Joseph, America V. Narayanan, Mrs. R. Mala, M. Samuvel Diraviyam and K. Ramasugandam against then Jayalalithaa government’s proposal to grant the convicts remission in a letter dated February19, 2014.
“In the present case, the State government had overlooked the above proposition for narrow political gain and in one stroke ordered release of Rajiv assassins. The attitude of the State government is against the constitutional value and national spirit and for narrow political consideration,” the victims contended in 2014. They said the State should consider the effect of the release of the convicts on the families of the victims, society and the precedent it would set.