The Supreme Court asked the Centre on Tuesday to respond within three months to the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to release the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
The Centre had moved the apex court against the release after a resolution was passed by the State Assembly in 2014.
The Tamil Nadu government had written to the Centre earlier, expressing its intent to release Perarivalan, Murugan, Santhan, Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran – all serving life terms for assassinating former Prime Minister Gandhi in 1991.
A constitution bench ruled in 2015 that the state has no authority to decide on remission for cases probed by a central agency. It said that the TN government should have got the prior consent of the Centre before issuing its order to remit the sentences. The apex court further held that life imprisonment is for life. It, however, referred the matter to a three-judge bench to separately decide if the order issued by the Tamil Nadu government to release the convicts was correct or not.
Reacting to the developments, convict Nalini's counsel M Radhakrishnan says, "This entire problem arose because the AIADMK government under former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced that they will be releasing the prisoner under sections 432 (power to suspend or remit sentences) and 433 (power to commute sentence) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. This needs the permission of the central government to release convicts who are under life-imprisonment. This was against our advice."
What the counsel had suggested, says the lawyer, was to invoke Article 161 of the Constitution. It allows the Governor of a state to grant remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence relating to a matter to which the executive power of the state extends.
"Despite this, Jayalalithaa purposely quoted the CrPc section and created drama. She was only pretending to release the convicts," alleged the advocate. "They have already completed 20 years and if the state government wants to, they can be released even today under article 161.”
The state government, however, maintains that its intention is to ensure the release of the prisoners.
"Amma also wanted them to be released. But the matter is pending in court for a long time," said KP Palaniswami, the AIADMK spokesperson. "Right now, we will have to follow whatever the Supreme Court says."