February 20, 2014

Supreme Court now restrains Tamil Nadu, stays release of Rajiv Gandhi's killers

Chief Minister Jayalalitha had announced in the Tamil Nadu Assembly on Wednesday that those convicted and sentenced to death in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case will be freed in view of the Supreme Court order of Tuesday commuting their sentence.
New Delhi: On an appeal from the Centre on Thursday against Tamil Nadu Government’s decision of Wednesday to release the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case following the apex court's own order of Tuesday commuting the death sentence and allowing the State to decide on further remission, the Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the release by the State Government of the three convicts who were facing the gallows.

The apex court will hear the State and others in the case on March 6.

When Solicitor-General Mohan Parasaran told the court that only the Centre could grant remission, and the Tamil Nadu government had not followed procedure, Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam observed, "We are not underestimating the powers of the State. We are concerned with the procedural lapses and we will examine it." Senior counsel Rakesh Diwedi for the Tamil Nadu government pleaded with the court not to pass any stay order. The February 18 judgment was restricted to death row convicts Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan. There are four more in the jail. The Centre may need to file an application to stop the release of Nalini, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha had said in view of the February 18 judgment, she was going to release all seven after seeking Home Ministry's consent.

Jayalalitha had announced on Wednesday that those convicted and sentenced to death in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case will be freed in view of a Supreme Court order of Tuesday. The apex court had on Tuesday commuted the death sentence to life term and allowed the State to decide on further remission on the ground that the Centre had unduly delayed decision on their mercy plea. Three convicts were facing the gallows: Santhan, Perarivalan and Murugan. There are seven convicts in the case languishing in the State prison.

The Chief Minister told the Assembly on Wednesday, “Taking into account that they have spent nearly 23 years in prison, the State Cabinet has resolved to release them, exercising the power of remission vested in it under section 432 of the CrPC.”

However, as the case was investigated by the CBI, a Central agency, and tried and convicted under the now-repealed TADA, the State would have to discuss it with the Union Government under Section 435 of the CrPC, she said.

The Chief Minister said, "The State Government will send the Cabinet's decision to the Centre. If the Centre fails to respond in three days, my Government will release them immediately under the power conferred on it by the Constitution."

The State Cabinet decision needs to be ratified by the Union Home Ministry as, according to the rule, all cases investigated by TADA or CBI go to the Home Ministry for final approval.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi, Congress vice-president and son of the late former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassinated by the Lankan Tigers on May 21, 1991, said in Amethi on Wednesday that, "I am personally against the death penalty but this is not about my father. If a Prime Minister's killers are being released, what kind of justice the common man can expect?"

Lankan Tamil issue is a highly explosive and electorally sensitive one for Tamil Nadu, where, people cutting across party lines supported the Tamil Eelam demand of the Tamil settlers in Sri Lanka.

It may be recalled that when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minsister, Indian troops were sent in large numbers to Lanka to help the Lankan soldiers fight the rebel Tamils in the north under advice from misquided quarters despite being warned againt meddling in the affairs of the island nation.

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