Nearly eight months after the Supreme Court ruled that the Centre has primacy over states' right to grant remission as the case was conducted by a central agency like the CBI, the Jayalalithaa government in Tamil Nadu government moved the apex court again seeking a review of the verdict.
It sought review of the apex court's verdict in December last year virtually overturning the State government's clemency decision.
A five-judge bench had said the State governments must secure concurrence of the Union government before freeing convicts in certain cases.
“As per the Criminal Procedure Code, the central government had no primacy in matters relating to remission or commutation of sentence and that it was erroneous to hold that Centre had a special status under the constitutional scheme. In the case of remitting the sentence of the convicts, it is the State government which is the executive authority more competent to decide the outcome of such release/remission of convicted persons because of its proximity to the facts and circumstances relating to the case pertaining to conviction of the convicts”, the review petition said.
The court, which had settled questions arising out of Tamil Nadu government's decision to free Gandhi's assassins, had dealt elaborately with the situations where the Centre will prevail over states' decision to grant remission which included cases where their powers are co-extensive, where trial has been held under central laws or conducted by agencies like CBI, or when they pertain to death penalty
It all began on February 18, 2014 when the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of three Rajv Gandhi assassination case convicts - Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan - to life sentences.
The decision was made on the grounds that they had already spent 20 years in jail, and there was an inexplicable delay in deciding their mercy pleas, so it was left it to the “appropriate authority to grant them remission”.
Presuming that the state government was the “appropriate authority” in the case, which the apex court on Wednesday declared it was not, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa - in a politically-motivated move that caused huge national uproar - not only ordered the release of the trio, but also four others - Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran - who were serving life sentences, thereby granting remission to all seven convicts.
All five judges in the five-judge bench agreed that Jaya government did not follow due procedure in ordering release of Rajiv Gandhi assassination convicts but were divided 3:2 on whether life imprisonment should be for entire life or should even hardcore convicts be considered for remission.
On Tamil Nadu’s support for remission for the convicts, Chief Justice H L Dattu, justices FMI Kalifulla and PC Ghosh said: “As far as the argument based on ray of hope is concerned, it must be stated that however much forceful the contention may be, it must be stated that such ray of hope was much more for the victims who were done to death and whose dependents were to suffer the aftermath with no solace left.”
They added: “People’s hope was shattered by a planned murder. Therefore, we find no scope to apply the concept of ray of hope to come to the rescue of such hardened, heartless offenders, which if considered in their favour will only result in misplaced sympathy and again will be not in the interest of society.”
But Justices AM Sapre and UU Lalit differed, saying: “In our view courts cannot and ought not deny to a prisoner the benefit to be considered for remission of sentence. By doing so, the prisoner would be condemned to live in the prison till the last breath without there being even a ray of hope to come out.”