Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convict Perarivalan's life sentence should be suspended and he should be freed, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday, May 18. A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai and AS Bopanna passed the order on Perarivalan's plea seeking the suspension of his life sentence. The Supreme Court invoked Article 142 and ordered his release. In 2018, the Tamil Nadu Cabinet had decided to pardon Perarivalan, however the Governor refused to take a decision on his release and transferred the petition to the President.
The Supreme Court has said that no exercise under Article 161 can be delayed indefinitely and that it can be subjected to judicial review. Article 161 gives powers to the Governor to pardon or remit the sentence of any convict. In Perarivalanâ€™s case, the Tamil Nadu government had recommended his release in 2018. Perarivalan himself has filed multiple mercy petitions, however, the Governor of Tamil Nadu had been sitting on it, claiming that it was the President who had to give assent to a mercy plea, on the recommendation of the Union government.
Perarivalan is one of the seven convicts in former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, and was given death penalty in 1998 by a TADA (Terrorists and Disruptive Activities Prevention) court. The death sentence was first confirmed by the Supreme Court in 1999, but later commuted to life imprisonment by the SC in 2014.
Perarivalan was jailed for procuring nine-volt batteries, which were used in the improvised explosive device (IED) that had killed Rajiv Gandhi. However, in 2017, a CBI official who had recorded his statement said that he had failed to record the confession that Perarivalan was unaware of the purpose of the two batteries he was asked to purchase. He also expressed remorse that Perarivalan languished in jail for two decades.
In November 2021, the CBI had told the apex court that the Tamil Nadu Governor has to take a call on the grant of remission to Perarivalan, and that Perarivalan is not the subject matter of further investigation. The court had also expressed unhappiness over the pendency of Perarivalanâ€™s plea over the years with the Tamil Nadu Governor.
â€śWe cannot shut our eyes when there is a violation of the Constitution. It is our Bible. Nobody is above law. There are certain powers conferred to dignitaries, but the working of the Constitution cannot come to a stall,â€ť the judges had observed on May 4.