Just because the State government had “fallen in error” in releasing the accused in the infamous Dharmapuri bus burning case and also those involved in the Melavalavu massacre, “the same error cannot be allowed to be perpetrated” by granting similar relief to M. John David, convicted in the 1996 gruesome murder of medical student Pon Navarasu, the Madras High Court has said.
Justices P.N. Prakash and A.A. Nakkiran dismissed a writ petition filed by the life convict’s gynaecologist mother, praying for his premature release, and concurred with State Public Prosecutor Hasan Mohamed Jinnah and Additional Public Prosecutor R. Muniyapparaj that there could not be negative equality under Article 14 (equality before law and equal protection of laws) of the Constitution.
They cited the Supreme Court to have said, in a recent judgement, that “a principle, axiomatic in the country’s constitutional lore is that there is no negative equality. In other words, if there has been a benefit or advantage conferred on one or a set of people, without legal basis or justification, that benefit cannot multiply or be relied upon as a principle of parity or equality.”
The writ petition, filed in 2020, had challenged the July 22, 2019 Government Order through which a State level committee’s recommendation to release David was turned down on the ground that he had committed a brutal crime in 1996 by severing the head of his hostel mate Navarasu, who was the son of then University of Madras Vice-Chancellor P. K. Ponnuswamy, following a ragging incident at Muthiah Medical College in Annamalai University.
The trial court had convicted him in 1998, sentencing him to life. However, the High Court acquitted him in 2001 for the want of evidence. After a prolonged legal battle, the Supreme Court reversed the acquittal and confirmed the conviction in 2011. Since the crime was heinous and the body parts of Navarasu had been strewn in various places on the outskirts of Chennai, the government decided not to release him.
However, his counsel argued that such a decision was discriminatory as the government had, in November 2018, released 13 convicts who had set a government bus ablaze, killing three girls of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in February 2000 as a special court had sentenced former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to one year imprisonment in Kodaikanal Pleasant Stay Hotel case.
Additionally, the counsel said the government had, in November 2019, released 13 convicts who had hacked to death six persons belonging to the scheduled castes at Melavalavu, Madurai in 1996. Therefore, refusing to release David alone, despite a good conduct certificate issued by the superintendent of Puzhal Central Prison, was unfair, he argued. However, his contentions did not cut ice with the judges.
Though the counsel also relied upon Supreme Court verdict, the Bench wrote, “The Supreme Court, in that case, proceeded to exercise its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution on a case-to-case basis and directed the release of the convict prisoners therein. We do not have the powers of the Supreme Court to engage in such an exercise, however sympathetic we may be towards John David.”