Supreme Court orders 6 Rajiv case convicts freed after 30+ years in prison | India News

NEW DELHI: Following through its order in May directing the release of life convict A G Perarivalan in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case by invoking its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court on Friday used the extraordinary jurisdiction to extend the same to six others convicted for assassinating the former Prime Minister and ordered that they be also set free forthwith.
Drawing similarity with Perarivalan, who was directed to be released on May 18 by the court after serving nearly 31 years, a bench of Justices B R Gavai and B V Nagarathna said that other convicts — Robert Payas, Jayakumar, T Suthendraraja, Ravichandran, Nalini and Murugan — are on same footing as they all also spent more than 30 years in jail and their conduct in prison was satisfactory and they all pursued various studies and completed courses from inside jail.
The bench noted that the factors which led the court to pass an order for the release of Perarivalan were directly applicable to the other convicts as well. “We therefore direct that the appellants be set free forthwith,” the bench said. All the convicts were undergoing life imprisonment.
Besides the convicts, the TN government had also strongly pushed for them to be released.
Supporting the plea of the convicts, the DMK-led Tamil Nadu government contended that the state cabinet had recommended remission of sentences of seven convicts to the governor under Article 161 (power to grant pardon, remission), which is binding on him. It also referred to the May 18 verdict, which held that the governor’s decision to refer their remission plea to the President despite a recommendation by the TN cabinet was without any constitutional backing and “was inimical to the scheme of our Constitution”.
In its affidavit in response to Nalini’s petition along with others, the state said, “The petitioner has been in incarceration for the past 30 years and 4 months and her case has also been recommended to the Governor of Tamil Nadu for premature release under Article 161 of the Constitution along with other six life convicts involved in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, which also includes the case of co-accused A G Perarivalan who was released by this court.”
The recommendation of the state government remitting the life sentence of the petitioner was sent to the governor for approval on September 11, 2018 and the same was kept pending with his office for more than two and a half years. It was finally forwarded by the governor to the President on January 27, 2021 and it still remains undecided for the past over a year and nine months.
The apex court on May 18 directed the release of Perarivalan taking into account his good conduct in jail, medical ailments and delay on the part of the Tamil Nadu governor in deciding on his remission plea.
“Given that his petition under Article 161 remained pending for two and a half years following the recommendation of the state cabinet for remission of his sentence and continues to remain pending for over a year since the reference by the governor, we do not consider it appropriate to remand the matter for the governor’s consideration. In the absence of any other disqualification and in the exceptional facts and circumstances of this case, in exercise of our power under Article 142 of the Constitution, we direct that the appellant is deemed to have served the sentence in connection with Crime No. 329 of 1991. The appellant, who is on bail, is set at liberty forthwith, ” the bench had said while deciding on Perarivalan’s plea.
“The law laid down by this court is clear and explicit. The advice of the state cabinet is binding on the governor in matters relating to commutation/remission of sentences under Article 161. No provision under the Constitution has been pointed out to us nor any satisfactory response tendered as to the source of the governor’s power to refer a recommendation made by the state cabinet to the President. In the instant case, the governor ought not to have sent the recommendation made by the state cabinet to the President. Such action is contrary to the constitutional scheme elaborated above,” the bench said.

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