In a blow to the Tamil Nadu government’s efforts to release seven people convicted for former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s murder, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the state had no suo moto powers to grant remission and release the convicts accused of conspiracy in the assassination case.
A five-judge Constitution Bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu said that the state government could grant remission and release the convicts only in consultation with the Central government as the case was investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The court said that the Centre and not the state will have primacy in deciding on persons convicted in matters of the CBI or any other central agency.
The judgement authored by Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla interpreted Section 435 (2) of the CrPC. It held that “the word consultation means concurrence”. The judgement stated that the Tamil Nadu government should have taken prior permission from the Centre before issuing orders to remit the sentences of the convicted persons. The court said that having answered the question of law, the validity of the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to grant remission and release the convicts accused of conspiracy in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination case would be examined by the three judge bench.
The court said this while replying to a three-judge bench that had asked the SC constitution bench to address seven questions that it had framed. The court also held by a majority verdict that in case of heinous crimes, it could sentence the accused to life imprisonment, meaning the whole life without remission. The Supreme Court on 20 February 2014 had stayed a decision by the Tamil Nadu government to release three convicts — Murugan, Santhan and Arivu — in the case. The apex court had altered the death sentences of the three into life terms on 18 February 2014. Later, the court had also stayed the release of the other four convicts — Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran — in the case. The court said that there had been procedural lapses on the part of the Tamil Nadu government.
Earlier, the Jayalalithaa government had decided to set all the seven convicts free. They have been serving jail sentences for the past 23 years for their role in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, on 21 May 1991.