Rajiv Gandhi Assassination: SC rejects Centre’s curative petition, upholds commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment

Rajiv Gandhi Assassination: SC rejects Centre’s curative petition, upholds commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment

Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice H.L. Dattu, Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla, Justice P.C. Ghose, Justice A.M. Sapre and Justice U.U. Lalit has rejected the Centre’s curative petition against its verdict commuting the death sentence of three convicts in former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's assassination case to life imprisonment.

The bench also upheld commutation of death sentence to life of three convicts in the assassination case.

The Government took a tough stand against the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to release the killers of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, saying there was no concern left for victims of crimes and governments were simply drawing mileage by remitting sentences of convicts held guilty by courts.

Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar argued before the Apex Court, saying, “Today, we all look at the convicts and sympathize with them. But there is no one to speak about the victims or the destruction caused by these convicts, and what these people hold to ransom.”

The Bench reacted, saying, “We share your sentiment but the law grants them (state governments) the power. How can the court restrict them from implementing the law.”

The debate encircled around Section 433A of the Cr.P.C. under which the Tamil Nadu government ordered the release of the seven convicts. .

Rajiv Gandhi was killed in 1991. In January 1998, a TADA court convicted his assassins who were awarded death sentence, and the apex court on May 11, 1999, confirmed their death sentence. The three assassins – V. Sriharan alias Murugan, A.G. Perarivlan alias Arivu and T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan – sought the commutation of their death sentence to life imprisonment on account of the excessive delay of nearly 11-years in deciding their mercy petitions.

Following this, on February 18, 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.

The matter was referred to a Constitution Bench in April. It also held that interim order of the court staying the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to free them will be in effect till the matter is decided by the Constitution Bench. It had framed seven questions to be adjudicated upon by the Constitution Bench. Read the LiveLaw story here.