In yet another bid to release the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the Tamil Nadu government on Wednesday wrote to the Centre seeking its views on its decision to free them.
In a letter to the Union Home Secretary, State Chief Secretary K. Gnanadesikan said the State government has decided to remit the life sentences of all the seven and release them as they had already served over 24 years in prison.
Under Section 435 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the State government has to consult the Centre before releasing prisoners who were tried by the CBI or under a central legislation. The Supreme Court, in December last, > had laid down that the State government had no power to release the Rajiv Gandhi case convicts without the Centre’s concurrence.
In his letter, the State Chief Secretary said the communication to the Centre was being sent without prejudice to the State’s right to seek a review of the December 2, 2015 judgment, wherein the Constitution Bench had said the word ‘consultation’ used in Section 435 meant ‘concurrence’.
The seven convicts are: A.G. Perarivalan, V. Sriharan alias Murugan, T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan (all three whose death sentences were commuted to life by the Supreme Court in 2014 due to delay in disposal of their mercy petitions), Nalini (whose death sentence was commuted to life by the State Cabinet in 2000), Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran, who are serving life terms.
Sriharan, Santhan, Jayakumar and Payas are Sri Lankan nationals, while the others are from Tamil Nadu.
In 1999, the Supreme Court had found the seven guilty of conspiring to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991.
The State government’s > earlier attempt to release the seven convicts in 2014 failed, as its communication to the Centre gave only three days’ time for a response. The Union government > responded by rushing to the Supreme Court questioning the power of the State government to release them without its concurrence. The Constitution Bench was asked to answer seven major legal questions arising out of the issue, which were settled in the December 2015 judgment. The main petition questioning the legality of the government’s order of release is still pending before a three-judge Bench in the Supreme Court.
In its latest letter to the Union government, the State government said the convicts had once again petitioned for their release on the ground that they had spent more than 20 years in prison. Of them, Nalini has filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court seeking her release.
A pretence, says Nalini’s lawyer
M. Radhakrishnan, a defence lawyer, has termed “pretence” the Tamil Nadu government’s letter to the Centre, seeking its views on its decision to free all the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
Mr. Radhakrishnan is the lawyer for Nalini, whose death sentence was commuted to life by the State government in 2000.
He said: “The State government can release all the life convicts today under Article 161 of the Constitution. The power under Article 161 is unfettered. The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is categorical that this power is untouchable by the court. There is no need to obtain any permission or any views from the Central government for releasing the life convicts. The State government is well within its right to release them immediately under Article 161.”
“The letter simply says they are going to seek a review of the Constitution Bench’s judgment, which is unnecessary. The State government is playing with the lives of these seven life convicts. This is highly regrettable.”
“I am very happy as a mother to hear that the Tamil Nadu government has initiated efforts to release my son once again. However, I don’t want to go through the trauma that I suffered last time when he was almost released. I hope Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union government will take a favourable view. My husband is unwell and when he heard this news, he became hopeful. But I don’t think he will be able to withstand another disappointment… I will feel relieved only when he is released,” said Arputhammal, Perarivalan’s mother.
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.
(With inputs from Udhav Naig and Serena M. Josephine)