New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed state governments to exercise its powers of remission to release life convicts with a rider that this will not apply to cases probed by central agencies like CBI and for those incarcerated under central laws such as TADA.
Lifting its stay imposed over a year back, the apex court said relaxation would also not apply where the convict has been awarded life term in sexual offence cases of rape and murder.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu, made it clear that "this interim order" would not be applicable in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case in which the Centre's plea against the Tamil Nadu Government's decision to grant remission for release of the seven life convicts is under consideration.
"We make it clear that our order is not applicable in this case (Rajiv Gandhi assassination case). Our interim order is subject to the final order we pass in the matter," the bench, also comprising Justices F M I Kalifulla, Pinaki Chandra Ghosh, Abhay Manohar Sapre and U U Lalit said.
The apex court modified its July 9, 2014 order by which it had restrained all states from exercising power of remission for releasing life convicts from jail in the wake of the controversy triggered by the Tamil Nadu Government decision to grant remission for release of three such convicts, V Sriharan alias Murugan, Santhan and Arivu -- whose death sentence in the Rajiv Gandhi case was commuted to life term by it on February 18, 2014.
The apex court had on February 20,2014 stayed the Tamil Nadu government's February 19 decision to release them along with four other convicts Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran saying there were procedural lapses on the part of the state.
The restoration of the states' power of remission under sections 432, 433 of CrPC to release life convicts may be used for considering relief for those life convicts who have undergone prison term of 14 or more years.
While specifying the conditions, the bench said such power cannot be exercised in cases in which prison terms are specified to continue till the end of the lives.
Further, the Constitution bench said remission cannot be considered in cases where it is clearly stated that a life convict has to serve in jail for a specified period like 20 to 25 years.
It also made it clear that state's power of remission can be exercised in cases where investigation was not conducted by any central probe agency like CBI.
While modifying the blanket stay on the power of remission by the state government, the apex court said it would not be applicable or extended to those prisoners who were sentenced to life imprisonment under central laws such as TADA and for gruesome crime of rape with murder.
In all such cases where the states are now permitted to release prisoners, the President and the Governors would also exercise their constitutional power to grant pardon or mercy, it said.
The bench said its interim order will apply where no application for commutation is preferred or considered suo motu by the state government.
The modification in the July 9,2014 order was considered after taking note of the response of some states which had responded to the notices served to them.
The bench is seized with the contentious issue of whether the Centre's nod was needed in granting remission in cases investigated and prosecuted by central agencies like CBI.
The Centre has maintained that state governments have no power to grant remission in cases investigated and probed by central agencies like CBI and there was also a need to look into the rights of the victims.
The bench had also made it clear that it would not go beyond the questions which were framed in the Reference.
The apex court had referred the case to the Constitution Bench saying this issue has been raised for the first time before the court and an authoritative pronouncement is required on the matter which could have wide ramifications.
It had said that the Constitution bench will also decide whether the sentence of a prisoner, whose death penalty has been commuted to life, can be remitted by government.
The Constitution bench will also decide whether life imprisonment meant jail term for rest of the life or a convict has a right to claim remission.
It will also decide whether a special category of sentence may be made for cases where death penalty might be substituted by the punishment of imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term in excess of fourteen years and to put that category beyond application of remission.
It will also decide whether the Union or the State has primacy over the subject matter enlisted in concurrent list of Seventh Schedule of the Constitution for exercise of power of remission.