As the seven convicts in the 1991 Rajiv Gandhi assassination case — Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan, Nalini, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran — complete 25 years in jail, here’s a look at their fate that had been hanging on appeals, clemency pleas and the ongoing battle between the Central and Tamil Nadu governments on powers of remission, and also between the political players of Tamil Nadu.
Delay is the operative word in the case of the convicts whenever they sought a constitutionally-sanctioned appellate action. It took the President more than 11 years to reject their clemency plea in 2011. In 2014, the Supreme Court >commuted their death sentence to life , citing the delay in deciding their clemency pleas.
Following this, the Tamil Nadu government >decided to release the seven but the move was stalled by the Centre. And the issue is in the Supreme Court again.
The Supreme Court, in December 2015, >settled the question of the powers of remission . A Constitution Bench ruled that a State government has no suo motu power to remit sentences of persons who were convicted under a Central law and cases investigated by a central agency like the CBI, and that life imprisonment is for life.
The Tamil Nadu government revived the politics of remission, just a week ahead of the announcement of Assembly election schedule. On March 2, 2016, the Jayalalithaa government wrote to the Centre seeking the latter’s view on the release of the seven convicts, a proposal duly rejected by the Narendra Modi government a month-and-a-half later.
Now, the issue is back in the Supreme Court, before a three-judge Bench that will decide whether the seven deserve to be released after spending these many years behind bars.
January 28, 1998 : A designated Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) courtְ sentences all 26 accused to death.
May 11, 1999: On appeal, the Supreme Court upholds death for Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini, commutes sentence to life for Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran and frees 19 others.
October 8, 1999: Supreme Court confirms death for Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini, dismissing their appeals to commute their sentences to life.
October 27, 1999: Tamil Nadu Governor rejects clemency petitions of Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini.
November 25, 1999: Madras High Court quashes Tamil Nadu Governor’s rejection of clemency petitions; directs the Governor to pass a fresh order after obtaining the State Cabinet’s views.
April 19, 2000: Tamil Nadu Cabinet chaired by then Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi decides to recommend commuting death sentence of Nalini alone.
April 21, 2000: Tamil Nadu Governor accepts Cabinet decision to commute death sentence of Nalini.
April 28, 2000: Tamil Nadu government forwards clemency pleas of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan to the President.
August 12, 2011: President rejects clemency petitions of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan.
August 26, 2011: Execution of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan fixed for September 9, 2011.
August 30, 2011: Tamil Nadu Assembly adopts resolution urging President to commute the death sentences of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan | Madras High Court stays execution of the three on their plea; petitions transferred to Supreme Court later.
May 1, 2012: Supreme Court says it would hear the pleas of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan.
February 18, 2014: Supreme Court >commutes the death sentence on grounds of delay in disposing their mercy pleas.
February 19, 2014: Tamil Nadu Cabinet >decides to immediately release Santhan, Murugan, Perarivalan, Nalini, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran; sends decision to Centre under Section 435 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
April 1, 2014: Dismissing the Centre’s petition, the Supreme Court refuses to review its verdict commuting death sentence of Santhan, Murugan, and Perarivalan in the case.
April 25, 2014: Supreme Court refers matter on remission of sentence to Constitution bench and >frames seven questions to be decided by it.
July 23, 2014: Supreme Court commences hearing to examine power of Centre and States to grant remission for releasing convicts whose death sentences are commuted to life term.
July 29, 2015 : Supreme Court dismisses Centre’s curative plea against commutation of death penalty into life term of three convicts.
August 12, 2015: Supreme Court reserves verdict on constitutional issues arising out of the Tamil Nadu government decision to set free convicts in the case, including the power of States to remit sentences.
December 2, 2015: Supreme Court says Centre will decide whether the convicts will be released or not holding that >States cannot exercise suo motu the power to grant remission without any specific plea from convicts. | Also read: >Ending politics of remission
December 14, 2015:>Nalini moves Madras High Court seeking a direction to Tamil Nadu government to consider her representation for premature release
January 16, 2016: Perarivalan >seeks to know the grounds for Bollywood actor >Sanjay Dutt’s premature release from prison.
March 2, 2016: In yet another bid to release the seven convicts, >Tamil Nadu government writes to Centre seeking its views on its decision to free them | Also read: >Reviving the politics of remission
April 19, 2016: Centre >rejects Tamil Nadu proposal to free the three.
April 20, 2016: Three-judge Supreme Court >Bench to decide on remission issue.
(With inputs from PTI )