Zee Media Bureau/Ajith Vijay Kumar
New Delhi: Acting on a petition filed by the Centre, the Supreme Court on Friday stayed a decision by the Tamil Nadu government to release of the three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case whose death sentence was commuted to life by the apex court on the ground of delay in deciding mercy petitions..
Appearing before a bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam, Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran had pleaded for a stay, arguing that the Tamil Nadu government should not be allowed to release the prisoners till the apex court decided its review petition challenging commutation of death sentence.
Acting on the petition, the court issued a notice to the Tamil Nadu government restraining it from releasing the convicts and directed it to maintain status quo till further orders. The state government has to respond within two weeks to the notice; the court posted the matter for further hearing on March 06.
"We are concerned about the procedural lapses and we will examine the issue," the bench said, adding that "all states are bound to follow the procedure", the court said.
"We are not underestimating the power of state government but we are examining the procedure followed by it," the bench said when the state government pleaded the court not to pass any order on staying the release of the prisoners.
A bench headed by the Chief Justice on Tuesday commuted their death sentence to life imprisonment, holding that the 11-year long delay in deciding their mercy petition had a dehumanising effect on them.
Importantly, the court order stands only against the release of V Sriharan alias Murugan, AG Perarivlan alias Arivu and T Suthendraraja alias Santhan.
The court said the Centre can file a fresh petition regarding the other four prisoners - Nalini, Ravichandran Robert Payas and Jayakumar - whose sentence has also been remitted.
Perarivlan, Nalini and Ravichandran are Indians, the rest of the convicts are Sri Lankans.
All seven are in prison since 1991, the year a woman Tamil Tiger suicide bomber Dhanu blew up Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally in Sriperumbudur, near Chennai.
After scenes of jubilation yesterday, a a pall of gloom descended on the Vellore prison where the four convicts-- Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini, are lodged, as the court has order shattered their dreams of walking free in a couple of days after 23 years of incarceration.
Earlier, Counsel of the Tamil Nadu government Rakesh Dwivedi said, “The dispute between the state government and the Centre is (with) regard to who is empowered to release them after commutation of the death sentence to life term. The Centre says they were convicted under central laws like Arms Act hence their consent is required but our contention was that terms under the central laws were already served out as they are not more than two years.”
Dwivedi said that convictions under the Indian Penal Code are under the purview of the concurrent list in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, which gives the state government to decide such matters on its own.
However, most experts hold the view that while the law mandates that the state government should consult the Centre in cases like that of Rajiv Gandhi`s assassination, it also says that the state government is not bound to take a decision only with the concurrence of the Centre.
The Centre is expected to argue its case on the basis that commutation of death sentence does not mean automatic entitlement for release, the decision by TN government seems to have been guided by political considerations and, most importantly, whether killers of a prime minister can be allowed to walk free, even when they have been spared the gallows.
The Centre had hurriedly moved the court after it was caught unaware by the sudden decision of the Jayalalithaa government to release them within the next three days – a political master stroke ahead of the Lok Sabha polls .
What added to the sense of urgency was Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi`s open expression of unhappiness on the possibility of the assassins of his father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi walking free.
In his first remarks on the issue, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “The assassination of Shri Rajiv Gandhi was an attack on the soul of India.”
“The Tamil Nadu`s government`s proposed course of action to release the killers of Shri Rajiv Gandhi is not legally tenable and should not be proceeded with,” he said.
An emotional Rahul Gandhi, yesterday, said, “If someone who kills a prime minister is released, how will the common man get justice?”
"The prime minister gave up his life... (but the) prime minister does not get justice," he said.