SC to decide on release of Rajiv Gandhi assassination conspirators

The Supreme Court is likely to pronounce on Wednesday its verdict on whether the Tamil Nadu government could grant remission and release conspirators in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case after commutation of their death sentence into life imprisonment by the apex court on the grounds of inordinate delay by the president in deciding their mercy petition.

The apex court by its February 18, 2014 order commuting the death sentence of V. Sriharan alias Murugan, A.G. Perarivalan alias Arivu and T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan had said that 11-year delay in deciding their mercy petitions was unreasonable and de-humanizing.

The judgment reserved on August 12 by a constitution bench of Chief Justice H.L.Dattu, Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh, Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre and Justice U.U. Lalit after the conclusion of the hearing on seven questions framed by a three judges bench.

One of the seven questions framed by the bench of the then Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice N.V.Ramana by their April 25, 2014 judgment was whether after the commutation of death sentence into life imprisonment either by the president, governor or the court, could the Tamil Nadu government further grant remission of sentence and release the convicts.

The constitution bench reserved the order on the conclusion of the hearing on the seven questions referred to it by the three judge bench.

The three judges bench had said that constitution bench would decide “whether once power of remission under article 72 or 161 (of the constitution) or by this court exercising the constitutional power under article 32 is exercised, is there any scope for further consideration for remission by the executive”.

The constitution bench is also likely to pronounce on whether there could be a special category wherein after death penalty has been commuted to life imprisonment, such a convict is put beyond the applicability of remission of sentence and he would remain behind the bar in excess of life term of 14 years.

The questions were referred to the constitution bench, as three judges bench had said: “The issue of such a nature has been raised for the first time in this court, which has wide ramification in determining the scope of application of power of remission by the executives both at the centre and the state.”

The entire issue was rooted on the conflicting positions taken by the central and the Tamil Nadu governments on latter’s move to release Sriharan, Perarivalan and Suthendraraja after commutation of their death sentence.

The apex court later on stayed the release of the other convicts including Jayakumar, Nalini, Ravichandran and Robert Pious saying that there were procedural lapses on the part of the Tamil Nadu government.