The Centre today contended before the Supreme Court Constitution Bench that the assassinators of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi did not deserve any mercy as the assassination was the result of a conspiracy involving foreign nationals.
Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar argued, "Our former Prime Minister was killed by these people. There was a conspiracy to kill him in which foreign nationals were also involved. What mercy is to be seen or shown? This is to be looked by you (apex court)… Their mercy plea was rejected by the President and also by the Governor (of Tamil Nadu). So what mercy is being argued?"
Tamil Nadu raised a preliminary challenge as to filing of a Public Interest Litigation by the Centre in the Apex Court questioning the States' decision to use their power of remission and order release of life convicts included in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. This was dismissed by the Bench observing that the Centre has a parental duty to voice the grief of families who lost loved ones in the 1991 assassination of former Rajiv Gandhi in Sriperumbudur and challenge the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to "tinker" and order the release of convicts whose death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment in the case.
Seeking to put matters into perspective with Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi representing Tamil Nadu, Chief Justice H.L. Dattu asked, “The Supreme Court commuted the convicts' death penalty to life. The victims did not complain. But here the State government further tinkers with our judgment. Can the CBI through the Centre not move under Article 32 of the Constitution? After all it's the CBI probe which got them death penalty.”
The CJI also demanded answers from the Centre on the issue of maintainability, asking, “Once we have commuted the death penalty to life. The ball is in the State government's court to decide whether to use its power of remission to release the convicts or not... Now here the State says they have been in prison for 23 years and that is enough... so why do you come to us like a public-spirited person?”
To this, the Solicitor General said, “But life imprisonment is for life... you cannot just release them.”
Representing the assassination convicts, Senior Advocate Ram Jethmalani said that the Centre’s Petition was based on hypothetical questions of law. He said, “My clients' liberty is at stake. They have spent 24 years in prison. If the State government decision had come through, they would have been released in three or four days. Instead they have suffered prison for another year.”
The Court however urged Mr. Jethmalani to not go into the merits of the case and restrict his arguments on maintainability.
It was submitted by the Solicitor General that Tamil Nadu has at no stage since April 25, 2014, the date of reference, in any proceeding let alone filing of a miscellaneous petition or an application or otherwise by a review, sought to impress upon the court nor did it do so before the Constitution bench on July 9, 2014 when notices were issued to all the states that the writ petition itself being not maintainable, why should the referral at all be decided.
"In that view of the matter, it is the submission of the Union that Tamil Nadu is stopped from raising any such issue of maintainability especially in the light of the fact that larger and more important questions of law are required to be decided and a purposive/authoritative pronouncement made by the Constitution bench," Kumar said.
On July 15, 2015, the Constitution Bench comprising Chief Justice H.L. Dattu, Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla, Justice P.C. Ghose, Justice A.M. Sapre and Justice U.U. Lalit, had deferred the hearing of the case to July 21, after it was informed by Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar that the issue would require extensive hearing for three to four days.
On February 18 last year, the Supreme Court granted relief to the three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, by commuting their death sentence into life term on the grounds that the 11-year delay in deciding their mercy petition by the Central government had a dehumanizing effect on them.
The very next day Tamil Nadu Government led by Jayalalithaa decided to set free all the seven convicts in the assassination case.
The court then on February 20 stayed the decision to release of three convicts–Murugan, Santhan and Arivu— whose death sentence was commuted to life term by it on February 18 in the case, saying there had been procedural lapses on the part of the state government on the decision to release them.
The apex court later on had also stayed release of the other four convicts, Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran in the case.
On April 25, 2014, the matter was referred to a Constitution Bench. The interim order to stay the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to free them was ordered to be in effect till the matter is decided by the Constitution Bench. The Court had framed 7 questions to be decided by the Constitution Bench. Read the LiveLaw story here.