Justice KT Thomas, who headed the SC bench that convicted seven people in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, tells TNM that he is surprised at the Governor's inaction.

A collage where former Supreme Court Justice KT Thomas can be seen in black robes, on his left is AG Perarivalan convicted in Rajiv assassination case wearing a white shirt and on the right is Nalini in yellow sareePerarivalan, Justice Thomas, Nalini
news Wednesday, May 18, 2022 - 13:59

It was on May 11, 1999, that a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice KT Thomas, with Justices DP Wadhwa and Syed Shah Mohammed Quadri, sentenced four people to death for being part of the conspiracy to kill former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Twenty three years later, the Supreme Court has released one of the convicts — AG Perarivalan — on grounds that the Tamil Nadu Governor did not have the right to inordinately delay taking a decision on Perarivalan’s mercy petition. Justice KT Thomas, who now lives in Kottayam district of Kerala, has welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision and condemned the Governor’s behaviour.

“I am surprised that the Tamil Nadu Governor did not act on the advice of the Tamil Nadu Cabinet. The Governor’s role according to the Constitution is to act in accordance with the advice of the Council of Ministers. He cannot act independently. He can delay it, but why did he delay it? It is a matter concerning the life of a human being,” Justice KT Thomas tells TNM.

Justice KT Thomas has been supporting the release of all convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case on legal grounds of remission for a few years now. In fact in October 2017, he wrote to Congress president Sonia Gandhi — Rajiv Gandhi’s wife — asking her to show magnanimity and pardon all the convicts. He also pointed out later that Perarivalan, who was just 19 years old in 1991 during the assassination, was convicted just on the basis of his confession. In 2013, CBI officer Thiyagarajan who had investigated the case went on the record to confirm that only part of Perarivalan’s confession had been recorded, and that the part where he said that he did not know what the two batteries he bought would be used for, was omitted. 

Justice Thomas told the Indian Express in 2017 that a confession should have been used only as a corroborative piece of evidence, but the other two judges did not agree. Justice KT Thomas told TNM that though he himself has questioned the investigation and the judgment, for now the only point to be considered was the constitutional delay in Perarivalan’s release. 

“It was absolutely right on the part of the Supreme Court to invoke Article 142 to release Perarivalan. Under the law, life imprisonment after 14 years can be reviewed under recommendation made by the prison committee. In Perarivalan’s case, nothing adverse had been given by the committee. On the contrary, I learnt from the media that his conduct was upright. Once his capital punishment was reduced and made into life imprisonment, unless the SC passed an order saying he should continue in jail till death, then 14 years should have been the limit for deciding his remission,” he points out.

Justice Thomas adds that with the Supreme Court deciding to release Perarivalan, it should apply to the other convicts in the case too, including Nalini, Murugan and Santhan. “This judgment shall apply to the other accused in the same case. And in the case of Nalini, I gave her life imprisonment in the first stage itself. Why should there be a discrimination between them?” he asks. Justice Thomas had said in his judgment that Nalini should be given only a life term as she became a part of the conspiracy only because of her relationship with Murugan who was a member of the LTTE.  "One gets the impression, on reading her confession, that she was led into the conspiracy by playing on her feminine sentiments," he had said. The other two judges however disagreed and Nalini was given the death sentence. It was commuted to life imprisonment in 2000.

“If the others cannot be released, then specific reasons should be given by the prison committee. Now they can all go to the Supreme Court,” the former judge says. Since the Tamil Nadu Cabinet had ordered the release of all seven convicts, Justice KT Thomas believes the other six have grounds to go to the Supreme Court like Perarivalan did. Nalini, Santhan, Sriharan alias Murugan (Nalini’s husband), Robert Payas, Jayakumar alias Jayakumaran, and Ravichandran alias Ravi are still serving their life terms.

Justice KT Thomas adds that the one thing he’s upset about is that Sonia Gandhi never replied to his letter appealing for magnanimity. “I pointed out that Nathuram Godse’s brother Gopal Godse, who was sentenced to life for being part of the conspiracy to kill Mahatma Gandhi, was released after 14 years in prison. I did not get a reply to the letter though I knew it was received,” he says.

“I don’t have anything to say on political decisions — then and now. My question is to the Governor who should have acted on time,” he adds. 

“The question before the judges was whether there was a conspiracy, we three judges held that there was a conspiracy and Perarivalan was a part of it. We are now concerned only about the continuation of his sentence. Once his capital punishment was reduced and made into life imprisonment, unless the SC passed an order saying he should continue in jail till death, then 14 years should have been the limit for deciding his remission,” he says.  

Read- What is Article 142? SC invokes its ‘extraordinary powers’ to free Perarivalan

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