NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the release of all six remaining convicts in the 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, noting they had undergone over three decades of incarceration, and that the Tamil Nadu government’s September 9, 2018, decision to release them was binding on the state Governor.
Ordering the release if Nalini Sriharan, Murugan alias Sriharan, P.R. Ravichandran, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and S. Raja, a bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and B.V. Nagarathna, relying on the apex court’s plenary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, noted that their conduct during the long incarceration was good, they pursued their studies, engaged in extracurricular activities and worked for charities.
“The applicants are thus directed to be released unless they are wanted in any other case. The matter is accordingly disposed of,” the bench said in its order, allowing their pleas for release.
The court relied on the May 18 judgment by a bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao (since retired), B.R. Gavai and A.S. Bopanna, by which one of seven convicts — A.G. Perarivalan — was ordered to be released.
The court by its May 18 judgment had said: “The advice of the state Cabinet is binding on the Governor in the exercise of his powers under Article 161 of the Constitution.” Article 161 of the Constitution spells out the powers of the Governor to grant pardons, etc, and to suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases.
The six convicts freed on Friday had cited the May 18 judgment to press for their release.
The court had on September 26 issued notice to the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government, initially on Nalini Sriharan and Ravichandran’s plea seeking early release. They had challenged the June 17, 2022, Madras High Court order that rejected their plea for an early release.
The High Court, turning down the petition, had said it does not have the plenary powers the Supreme Court has under Article 142, and hence it cannot order their release like the Supreme Court did for Perarivalan in May 2022. On September 9, 2018, the Tamil Nadu government decided to grant remission of sentence to Perarivalan, Murugan, Santhan, Nalini, Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran. The decision was communicated to the then Governor Banwarilal Purohit, who sat over it for three years without deciding either way.
Initially, the decision to release seven convicts was taken in February 2014, which led to prolonged litigation in the top court at the instance of the Central government, which had resisted the remission of sentence to the convicts.
Rajiv Gandhi was killed by “human bomb” Dhanu during a public meeting at Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991.