Indian apex court refused to release of Rajiv LTTE killers
India’s Supreme Court on Friday referred the issues raised by a decision of the pro-LTTE Tamil terrorists Tamil Nadu government lead by LTTE sympathizer Chef Minister Jayalalithaa in February this year to release the seven convicts serving life sentences for the May 21, 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to a Constitution Bench.
A three-judge bench consisting of Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N V Ramana also extended the stay it had ordered on February 20 on the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to release the prisoners.
“All the issues raised in the given case are of utmost critical concern for the whole of the country, as the decision on these issues will determine the procedure for awarding sentences in the criminal justice system,” the court said, directing that the matter be listed before the Constitution Bench as early as possible, preferably within three months.
It also said that all the interim orders granted by it earlier would continue till a final decision is taken by the Constitution Bench in the matter, which means the seven LTTE Tamil terrorist convicts will remain in prison at least until then.
The apex court had, on February 18 this year, commuted the death sentences awarded to three of the assassins of Gandhi to imprisonment for life in view of the inordinate 11-year delay that had occurred in the disposal of their mercy petitions by the Union Government.
A day later, the Tamil Nadu government, on February 19, decided to release the LTTE trio — V. Sriharan alias Murugan, T.Suthendraraja alias Santhan and A.G. Perarivalan alias Arivu — as well as the four other convicts serving life terms in the case — Murugan’s wife Nalini, Ravichandran, Robert Pious and V Jayakumar. The four are serving life terms since their arrest in 1991.
Pro-LTTE terrorists Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had, in a statement on that date, said that, while commuting the death sentence, the apex court had said that the convicts would remain in prison until the end of their life, subject to any remission granted by the appropriate Government under Section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973 which, in turn, is subject to the procedural checks mentioned in the said provision and further substantive check in Section 433-A of the Code.
She said the state government had decided to invoke Section 432, taking into account the fact that the convicts had already spent 23 years in prison. She said that, as the case was investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the state government would have to consult the Centre under Section 435 of the CrPC.
Jayalalithaa said the Cabinet’s decision would be conveyed to the Centre and, if it failed to respond in three days, her government would release the prisoners immediately using the powers conferred on it by the Constitution.
Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran argued before the apex court on February 20 that, in this case, the “appropriate Government” meant the Union Government inasmuch as the case was investigated by a Central agency, the CBI, and the convicts had been charged with offences under various laws enacted by the Union Government.
Gandhi was killed by a female suicide bomber of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Tamil terrorists late in the evening of May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, in Tamil Nadu when he arrived there for an election campaign meeting. Along with him, 17 others were also killed when the bomber presented him a garland and triggered the explosives strapped to her body.
Gandhi had become Prime Minister after the assassination of his mother and then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984 and was in office until late 1989 when he lost the next general elections.
Murugan’s wife Nalini was also given the death penalty, but it was commuted to life on the intervention of Gandhi’s widow, Sonia Gandhi, who is now the president of the Congress party, the main constituent of India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
The orders by the Supreme Court on a writ petition, under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, filed by the Union of India praying for quashing of the letter of February 19, 2014 issued by the Chief Secretary of the Tamil Nadu government proposing to remit the life imprisonment and release the seven convicts in the case.
Appearing for the Union of India, Attorney General Goolam E. Vahanvati submitted the Tamil Nadu government’s proposal was illegal and without jurisdiction because it was not the “appropriate Government” in the present case, in which it had no role to play at any stage.
He also argued that the State Government could not have suo motu, without an application, initiated the process of remitting the sentence and releasing the convicts.
Further, Vahanvati submitted that once the death sentence of a convict has been commuted into life imprisonment, the same has to be interpreted to mean the entire life of the convict and the executive cannot exercise the power of remission of sentence thereafter.