In a shocking turn of events, the three life convicts in the 2000 Dharmapuri bus burning incident were released from the Vellore Central prison for Men on Monday afternoon. This, after they received a fax from the Additional Director General of Police (prisons) ordering for the three men convicted in this brutal crime to be released early on the occasion of the birth centenary of former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran.
On February 2, 2000, the three life convicts – Nedunchezhian, Ravindran alias Madhu, and Muniappan, torched a bus in Dharmapuri district to express their anger over the conviction of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in the Pleasant Stay Hotel case. The three men, who were AIADMK members, poured petrol over the vehicle and set it ablaze even as three students from the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University – Kokilavani, Gayathri and Hemalatha – were trapped inside. The students were burnt to death in the vehicle. The Supreme Court initially sentenced them to death but this was later commuted to a life sentence in 2016.
And yet despite this brutal crime, the three men walked free out of the Vellore prison at 12.25 pm on Monday.
Reports suggest that a week ago, the AIADMK government reiterated its recommendation for the early release of the convicts after Governor Banwarilal Purohit returned their files to the state government for reconsideration.
According to a Vellore prison authority who spoke to TNM, the convicts were let out in just 15 minutes after the order came in from the ADGP's office.
"We got the order for the release around 12.10 pm and we let them go at 12.25 pm," confirms the prison official. "We did it immediately," he adds.
A highly placed official in the prisons department however points out to TNM that such a release cannot happen so quickly. This adds to speculation over why their release was done in such a hushed manner.
"Several formalities need to be followed. Order in writing has to come to the jailor. The court order has to be obtained by him. It is only after that, that they can be released. If they have come out, it means the necessary formalities have been completed," says the official.