New Delhi- The Supreme Court on Friday directed the premature release of six convicts, including Nalini Sriharan and R P Ravichandran, serving life term in the assassination case of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, noting that the Tamil Nadu government has recommended remission of their sentence.
Besides Nalini and Ravichandran, the four others to be released are Santhan, Murugan, Robert Payas and Jayakumar.
The top court also took into account that their conduct was satisfactory during incarceration and they have undertaken various studies.
A bench of justices B R Gavai and B V Nagarathna said the judgement of the top court in the case of A G Perarivalan, one of the convicts in the case, is equally applicable in their matter.
Invoking its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution, the top court had on May 18 ordered the release of Perarivalan, who had served over 30 years in jail.
Under Article 142, the top court may issue any verdict or order necessary to provide “complete justice”.
“The court (SC) held that the Governor in matter of remission of an appellant convicted under section 302 was bound by advice of state cabinet. Undisputedly, in the present case the cabinet has resolved grant of remission to all the applicants.
“We, therefore, find that the factors which weighed with this court while directing the release of A G Perarivalan are equally applicable to the present applicants.We direct that all the appellants are deemed to have served their sentence in relation to the crime.The applicants are thus directed to be released unless required in any other case,” the bench said.
The Tamil Nadu government had earlier favoured the premature release of Nalini and Ravichandran, saying its 2018 advice for remission of their life sentence is binding upon the governor.
In two separate affidavits, the state government had told the top court that in a cabinet meeting held on September 9, 2018, it had considered mercy petitions of seven convicts in the case and resolved to recommend the governor for remission of their life sentences invoking the power granted under Article 161 of the Constitution.
Nalini and Ravichandran had moved the top court seeking premature release.
Both of them had challenged a June 17 order of the Madras High Court, which rejected their pleas for early release, and cited the apex court judgment ordering the release of co-convict Perarivalan.
Nalini, Santhan, Murugan, Perarivalan, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran were sentenced to life terms and spent over 23 years in jail.
The state government had earlier said it is the competent authority to take a decision on the petition filed by Nalini and Ravichandran under Article 161 of the Constitution and the “decision of the state cabinet dated September 9, 2018 thereon is final and it can be exercised by governor of Tamil Nadu as per the aid and advice of the cabinet”.
Both Nalini and Ravichandran have been on ordinary leave (parole) from December 27, 2021 till date as sanctioned by the Tamil Nadu government under the Tamil Nadu Suspension of Sentence Rules, 1982 then and there based on their request.
Nalini has been incarcerated in special prison for women, Vellore for more than 30 years while Ravichandran is lodged in Madurai Central Prison and has undergone 29 years of actual imprisonment and 37 years of imprisonment, including remission.
The high court had on June 17 rejected the petitions of Nalini and Ravichandran, to order their release without even the consent of the state’s governor.
Gandhi was assassinated on the night of May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber, identified as Dhanu, at a poll rally.
In its May 1999 order, the top court had upheld the death sentence of four convicts Perarivalan, Murugan, Santhan and Nalini.
However, in 2014, it commuted the death sentence of Perarivalan to life imprisonment along with those of Santhan and Murugan on grounds of delay in deciding their mercy petitions.
Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2001 on the consideration that she has a daughter.
Timeline of events in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case
The Supreme Court on Friday directed the premature release of the remaining six convicts, including Nalini Sriharan and R P Ravichandran, in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Following is the timeline of events:
— May 21, 1991: Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi assassinated at a poll rally in Tamil Nadu’s Sriperumbudur by a woman suicide bomber, identified as Dhanu.
— May 24, 1991: Probe handed over to Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
— June 11, 1991: CBI arrests A G Perarivalan (19), books him under Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA).
— January 28, 1998: TADA court sentences 26 accused, including Perarivalan, to death.
— May 11, 1999: Supreme Court upholds Perarivalan’s conviction and sentence.
— October 8, 1999: Supreme Court dismisses Perarivalan’s review petition.
— April 2000: Tamil Nadu governor commutes death sentence of Nalini Sriharan on state government’s recommendation and an appeal from former Congress president and Rajiv Gandhi’s widow, Sonia Gandhi.
— August 12, 2011: Perarivalan files mercy petition before President under Article 72 of the Constitution, which is rejected. Aggrieved thereby, Perarivalan files writ petition in Madras High Court.
— May 1, 2012: High court transfers the case to Supreme Court.
— February 18, 2014: Supreme Court commutes Perarivalan’s death sentence to life imprisonment, along with that of two other prisoners — Santhan and Murugan — on grounds of 11-year delay in deciding their mercy pleas by Centre.
— December 30, 2015: Perarivalan files petition under Article 161 of the Constitution for remission of his sentence.
— September 9, 2018: Tamil Nadu cabinet passes resolution recommending Perarivalan’s release, sends it to governor.
— January 25, 2021: Tamil Nadu governor forwards petition filed by Perarivalan under Article 161, along with recommendation made by Tamil Nadu cabinet, to president.
— March 9, 2022: Supreme Court releases Perarivalan on bail, taking into account that he had spent more than 31 years in jail.
— May 18, 2022: Supreme Court orders Perarivalan’s release, invoking its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution.
— August 12, 2022: Nalini Sriharan and Ravichandran move Supreme Court seeking premature release.
— September 26, 2022: Supreme Court issues notices to Centre, Tamil Nadu government on plea of Nalini Sriharan and Ravichandran seeking premature release.
— Nov 11, 2022: SC directs premature release of the six remaining convicts in the case, including Nalini Sriharan and Ravichandran, noting that the Tamil Nadu government has recommended remission of sentence to them.
SC Decision Totally unacceptable, completely erroneous: Congress
The Congress on Friday termed “totally unacceptable and completely erroneous” the Supreme Court order directing the premature release of six convicts serving life sentence in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, and said the apex court has not acted in consonance with the spirit of India on this issue.
In a statement, Congress general secretary in-charge communications Jairam Ramesh said the decision of the Supreme Court to free the remaining killers of the former prime minister is “totally unacceptable and completely erroneous”.
“The Congress party criticises it clearly and finds it wholly untenable. It is most unfortunate that the Supreme Court has not acted in consonance with the spirit of India on this issue,” he said.
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