Rajiv Gandhi assassination case: SC spikes immediate release of convicts

PTI | DECCAN CHRONICLE
Published Feb 21, 2014, 12:52 am IST
Updated Mar 19, 2019, 9:19 am IST
Court cites procedural lapses by TN govt, says Centre can file fresh plea on other 4 convicts.
(From left) Perarivalan, Murugan and Santhan - File photots
 (From left) Perarivalan, Murugan and Santhan - File photots

New DelhiThe seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case will not be able to immediately walk out of jail with the Supreme Court on Thursday citing 'procedural lapses' by the Tamil Nadu government which decided to release them.

The immediate effect of the apex court's order was on three prisoners - Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan - whose death sentence was commutted to life on February 18 by it as the Centre's petition mentioned only their names but a bench headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam allowed it to file a seperate application on the remaining four prisoners.

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As the apex court has raised questions and agreed to examine in detail the procedure adopted by the state government in deciding to release them, the seven convicts will remain in jail till further orders.

"Issue notice to the State of Tamil Nadu, Inspector General of Prisons, Chennai, the Superintendent of Central Prison, Vellore and the convicts viz. V Sriharan @ Murugan, T Suthendraraja @ Santhan and A G Perarivalan @ Arivu returnable on March 6, 2014," the bench said adding "Till such date, both parties are directed to maintain status quo prevailing as on date in respect of the convicts".

The bench, also comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi and N.V. Ramana, at the begining of proceedings expressed surprise on how the state government claimed to have fulfilled all the procedures within a day after the apex court commuted the death sentence of three prisoners.

"The commutation of death sentence into life cannot automatically lead to their release," the bench observed and said state cannot abrogate the procedures required under the law.

"Our judgement was pronounced on Tuesday morning and it was available at 5PM and the newspaper reports came out only on Wednesday," the bench said while spelling out the procedures required for release of the convicts.

"There are several procedural steps required to be followed and an application has to be filed before a presiding judge of a competent court for remitting sentence which was not done," it said.

Solicitor General Mohan Parasarn then said the procedures were not followed and the decision was taken in a hurry by the state government.

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Parasaran said the state government was not authorised to deal with the release of convicts as they were held guilty under the Central laws.

The court after hearing his arguments said that all procedural checks laid down in the law have not been followed by the state government and it will examine the issue raised by the Centre.

Making it clear that it is not taking away the power of the state government to remit sentence, the bench, at the same time, said the states have to follow the procedures.

"We are concerned about the procedural lapses and we will examine the issue," the bench said, adding that "all states are bound to follow the procedure".

Senior advocate Rakesh Diwedi, appearing for Tamil Nadu, strongly opposed the plea of Centre saying that the state governemnt has not taken a final decision on teh issue.

The bench, however, brushed aside his contention saying that newspaper reports said that the Chief Minister made statement regarding this on teh floor of the assembly.

"We are not underestimating the power of state government but we are examining the procedure followed by it," the bench said when the state government pleaded the court not to pass any order on staying the release of the prisoners.

The bench also said that the commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment cannot automatically result in remission of the sentence and the proper procedure laid down in the law has to be follow before releasing the prisoners from jail.

The bench posted the matter for hearing on March 6. Earlier in the day, the Centre moved the apex court seeking a stay on Tamil Nadu government's decision to release the convicts in the case and the court agreed to hear it.

Parasaran said the state government should not be allowed to release the prisoners till the apex court decided its review petition challenging commutation of death sentence of three condemned prisoners to life imprisonment on ground of delay in deciding mercy petitions.

The Jayalalithaa government had yesterday decided to set free all seven convicts in the assassination case.

Besides Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan, who earned a major reprieve on February 18 from the apex court which spared them from gallows, Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran are the other four convicts whose release was decided by the Tamil Nadu government.

Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan are currently lodged in the Central Prison, Vellore, in Tamil Nadu and they are in incarceration since 1991. The other four are undergoing life sentence for their role in the assassination of Gandhi on May 21, 1991 in Sriperumbudur.

The apex court had commuted the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan (both Sri Lankan Tamils) and Perarivalan on the ground of 11-year delay in deciding their mercy pleas by the Centre. Gandhi's assassins were convicted by a TADA court in January 1998 and were awarded death sentence, which was confirmed by the apex court May 11, 1999. 

Centre in its petition contended that state is not an appropriate authority to take a decision on the remission of sentence in this case and the Tamil Nadu government has thrown statutory safeguard 'to the winds'.

"The statutory safeguard under Section 433 CrPC has been completely thrown to the winds. Since the State Government is not the appropriate government, Section 435 does not apply and the process of consultation has been reduced to an empty formality," the application said.

It said that the Centre is also in the process of filing a petition for review against the judgement commuting death sentence of condemned prisoners.

"Apart from the question whether such a direction could be given at all, this Court clearly stated that life imprisonment means till the end of the life. It is submitted that the further observation with regard to remission granted by the appropriate Government was wholly unnecessary, and is also the subject matter of the proposed review petition," the application said.

The state government is not the appropriate government in this case. In any case, the aforesaid observations were subject to procedural checks mentioned in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, it said.

"However, completely ignoring observations of this Court, the state government has publicly announced that they propose to remit the sentences and enlarge the convicts into freedom. This is not only completely illegal, contrary to observation quoted above, but plainly arbitrary and without any application of mind to the relevant facts and circumstances, including the most important aspect, namely, that there has been absolutely no remorse, and ignoring the dastardly nature of the heinous crime which has been committed," the application said. 

Next: Rajiv case convicts disappointed with SC order

Rajiv case convicts disappointed with SC order 

Chennai: Jubilation gave way to despair at Vellore Jail after the Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the release of convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

The jubilation that marked the announcement of Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa that her cabinet had decided to release the seven within three days turned into disappointment within 24 hours following the apex court order.

Sources in Vellore jail said a pall of gloom descended on the prison where the four convicts - Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini, are lodged, as the Supreme Court's order shattered their dreams of walking free in a couple of days after 23 years of incarceration.

Making a statement in the Assembly on Wednesday, the Chief Minister had announced that her cabinet had decided to release all the seven convicts within three days, irrespective of the Centre's response to the government decision.

Meanwhile, dejection was writ large on the face of a relative of Perarivalan, who poured out her anger against the Congress, accusing it of creating a ruckus on the issue.

His aunt Nila Pappiah expressed confidence that the Tamil Nadu government would fight the court case on their behalf and expressed optimism that her nephew would be released.

She reiterated Perarivalan's mother's claim that he was innocent and not connected with the killing of Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber at Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991. 

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