To free or not to free: Centre undecided on plea to release Rajiv's assassins

There seems to be some confusion over the Centre's decision on a plea put forth by the Tamil Nadu state government seeking the release of the seven prisoners convicted of killing Rajiv Gandhi. The Hindu reported that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs denied the plea, telling Tamil Nadu that since the case is in the Supreme Court, it has no authority to take a decision in the matter.

However, the MHA spoke to News18 and denied the report, explaining that the decision has not yet been taken. "The process of consultation with the Law Ministry on Tamil Nadu government request is still on," News18 quoted the MHA as saying.

The latest installment in this saga began on 2 March when in a letter to Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary K Gnanadesikan said the state government has received petitions from the seven convicts requesting their release as they have spent over 24 years in jail.

The seven convicts are V Sriharan alias Murugan, his wife Nalini Sriharan, T Suthendraraja alias Santhan, AG Perarivalan, Jayakumar, Robert Payas and Ravichandran.

Rajiv Gandhi. Reuters

Rajiv Gandhi. Reuters

Gnanadesikan said the death sentences imposed on Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan were commuted to life sentence on the orders of Supreme Court.

All seven have been in prison since 1991, the year a woman Tamil Tiger suicide bomber blew up former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally in Sriperumbudur near Chennai on 21 May.

Gnanadesikan said the state government had proposed to remit the life sentence and release all the seven convicts and had written to the UPA central government to indicate its views on 19 February, 2014.

However, the UPA government approached the apex court against Tamil Nadu's decision.

Gnanadesikan said a three-member bench of the Supreme Court framed seven constitutional/legal questions for consideration of a five-judge bench.

According to Tamil Nadu's chief secretary, the apex court five-member bench answered the questions and the writ petition filed by the central government was directed to be posted to the three-member bench.

Gnanadesikan said the case is yet to be listed before the three-member bench.

He said, keeping in mind the circumstances, it has become necessary to request the central government to communicate its views on the Tamil Nadu government's decision to release all the seven convicts.

Gnanadesikan also said his letter was sent to the central government without prejudice to the Tamil Nadu government's right to move the Supreme Court to review its judgment dated 2 December, 2015, where it had held the term 'consultation' under Section 435 of the Criminal Procedure Code means 'concurrence' of the central government.

The Supreme Court on 2 December, 2015, ruled that the Tamil Nadu government could grant remission and release the convicts only in consultation with the central government in cases investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Incidentally, The Hindu reported that the Union Home Ministry conveyed its decision to the state government on 2 March, two days before the model code of conduct for the 16 May elections came into effect.

However, on 3 March, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had told the Lok Sabha that the government is examining the plea seeking the release of the convicts. "We have received the letter yesterday (2 March) and the government is examining it. The apex court has already given its decision on the matter. Now it is the constitutional and moral responsibility of the government to abide by the decision of the apex court," Rajnath Singh had said.

The same day, when a TV channel asked Rahul Gandhi, son of the slain prime minister, about his thoughts on the matter, he said, “"The issue has come to the Centre and the government has to decide. The ball is in the Centre's court. As a son, I would not like to express my opinion."

On 19 March, 2008, Rajiv Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka Vadra met Nalini in Vellore prison. Confirming rumours about her visit a month later, she said that it was her way of coming to peace with the violence and loss she has experienced. "It was a very personal visit and completely on my own individual initiative. I would be deeply grateful if this could be respected," she said. "I do not believe in anger, hatred and violence and I refuse to allow these things to overpower my life."

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Apr 20, 2016 17:57:21 IST

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