The Supreme Court is expected to hear on Tuesday a case relating to the premature release of seven convicts currently serving life imprisonment terms for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. According to reports, the Tamil Nadu government informed the Madras high court last week that the case is likely to be listed before the apex court on December 7.
The petition for premature release was filed back in 2016 by 46-year-old AG Perarivalan, one of the convicts seeking the suspension of his life sentence in the case till the CBI-led Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) completes its probe on the aspect of a larger conspiracy behind the assassination of the former prime minister.
At the hearing of the case last year, the Supreme Court sought to know the current status of a recommendation made by the Tamil Nadu cabinet to the state’s governor in September 2018 to release all the convicts under powers granted by Article 161 of the Constitution.
Notably, the aforementioned article empowers a governor to pardon a convict in any criminal case.
In its reply, the state government had said that the governor was waiting for the final report of the MDMA before taking a decision. Later, at a hearing on January 21 last year, the government further informed that the governor would be taking a call on the remittance petition filed by Perarivalan. However, a month later, the Union home ministry said the governor had studied all the reports available to him and recommended that the President of India would be the appropriate authority to deal with the request of premature release.
Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu government had also filed a counter-affidavit against a similar petition by S Nalini, another one of the convicts, noting that she cannot be released without the governor’s assent and that the court should dismiss the plea to release her.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on the night of May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by a female suicide bomber, identified as Dhanu, at a poll rally.
Fourteen others, including Dhanu herself, were also killed. Gandhi’s assassination was perhaps the first case of suicide bombing which had claimed the life of a high-profile leader.
In its May 1999 order, the Supreme Court had upheld the death sentences of four convicts — Perarivalan, Murugan, Santham, and Nalini.
In April 2000, the Tamil Nadu governor had commuted the death sentence of Nalini on the basis of the state government’s recommendation and an appeal by former Congress president and Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi.
On February 18, 2014, the top court had commuted the death sentence of Perarivalan to life imprisonment, along with that of two other prisoners – Santhan and Murugan – on the grounds of an 11-year delay in deciding their mercy pleas by the central government.