Chennai: The Madras High Court, on Tuesday, put an interim stay on the hanging of the three death row convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
The High Court gave the trio - Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan - an interim relief of eight weeks. They are lodged in Vellore Jail. The case came to the High Court after their mercy petitions were rejected by President Pratibha Patil early this month, and September 9 was fixed for their hanging.
Granting the interim stay, a bench comprising justices C Nagappan and M Sathayanarayanan observed there had been a delay of over 11 years in the disposal of the mercy petitions filed by the convicts to the President seeking clemency.
The matter involved a question of law, the judges said and admitted the writ petitions and issued notices to the Centre, the state and Tamil Nadu police.
Senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, R Vaigai and Colin Gonsalves, appearing on behalf of the three convicts, contended that the "inordinate and inexplainable delay" in disposing of their mercy petitions violated Article 21 of the Constitution (Protection of life and personal liberty).
A crowd gathered outside the court welcomed the court order. MDMK leader Vaiko, who strongly pleaded for the commutation of capital punishment, was also present in the court.
Speaking to reporters after the judgement, Jethmalani said, “I am here because of my friend Vaiko; Vaiko has brought me here, you should be grateful to Vaiko not me, and ultimately we should be grateful to the High Court, the court is doing justice.”
Jethmalani said that the delay of 11 years in deciding their mercy plea was "mental torture" for the convicts. "You make him suffer thousand times. Is this justice?" he asked. He said the government should consider the "people`s voice" against execution.
Subramanian Swamy, who is on the other side of the legal battle, reacted to the judgement by saying that the Attorney General must move to vacate the stay on the execution of Rajiv’s killers.
Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan had sought to set aside the order of the President on the ground of `undue delay` in disposing of their mercy petitions.
They claimed "an unwarranted, illegal and unconstitutional delay is caused by the President and the Union of India in the disposal of the mercy petition".
"No explanation has been offered either for the delay in forwarding of the mercy petitions by the state government to the President or the delay in disposal by both the authorities," they contended.
TN Assembly asks Prez to reconsider mercy petitions
Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu Assembly today adopted a unanimous resolution asking the President to reconsider mercy petitions of three death row convicts.
Moving the resolution, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said the people of the state were "saddened" by the fact that the death sentence to the three was to be executed soon.
Jayalalithaa, who had yesterday expressed her inability to intervene on the issue, said, "Many political parties have appealed to me to commute death sentences and in order to respect the sentiments of the people of the state, I appeal to the members of the house to pass the resolution unanimously".
The Chief Minister said she had told the state Assembly yesterday that only the President could reconsider the decision of rejecting the mercy petitions as the state Governor could not take a decision on a mercy plea rejected by the President.
TN parties rush to welcome the HC order
Political parties in Tamil Nadu rushed to welcome the Madras High Court order staying the execution of the three convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and adoption of a resolution by the state assembly appealing to the President to reconsider their mercy pleas.
Welcoming the high court order and the resolution, CPI put on hold its proposed fast on September 3 to press its demand for commutation of the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan.
Principal opposition in the assembly DMDK welcomed the adoption of the "unanimous resolution".
MDMK leader Vaiko, who has been in the forefront of the campaign for commuting the death sentence of the three, said, "The innocent have been saved and justice established." Vaiko said the entire Tamil community was rejoicing over the High Court order and thanked Jayalalithaa for her initiative in the assembly.
PMK also welcomed the state government`s move for passing the special resolution in the assembly.
Puthiya Thamizhagam President K Krishnasamy, while thanking Jayalalithaa in the assembly, compared her to Mother Teresa, saying she had "saved" the lives of the three Tamils.
With PTI inputs