The Union government on Friday told the Supreme Court it does not concur with the Tamil Nadu government’s proposal to release seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, saying remission of their sentence will set a “dangerous precedent” and have “international ramifications”.
A bench of justices Ranjan Gogoi, Navin Sinha and K M Joseph took the document, filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, on record and adjourned the matter.
On January 23, the apex court had asked the Centre to take a decision within three months on a 2016 letter by the Tamil Nadu government seeking its concurrence on releasing the seven convicts.
The letter, written on March 2, 2016, had said the state government has already decided to release the seven convicts, but it is necessary to seek the Centre’s concurrence as per an apex court order of 2015.
“The central government, in pursuance of section 435 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, does not concur to the proposal of the government of Tamil Nadu contained in its communication letter dated March 2, 2016 for grant of further remission of sentence to these seven convicts,” said the reply filed by MHA Joint Secretary V B Dubey.
The ministry said the trial court had given “cogent reasons” for imposing death penalty upon the accused and pointed out that even the Supreme Court had termed the assassination an “unparallel act” in the annals of crimes committed in this country.
“... Releasing the four foreign nationals who had committed the gruesome murder of former prime minister of this country, along with 15 others most of whom were police officers, in connivance with three Indian nationals will set a very dangerous precedent and lead to international ramifications by other such criminals in the future,” the Centre said.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on the night of May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber, identified as Dhanu, at an election rally. Fourteen others, including Dhanu herself, were also killed.
This was perhaps the first case of suicide bombing which had claimed the life of a high-profile global leader.
The MHA in its reply said that the case involves the assassination of a former prime minister in a brutal manner in pursuance of a “diabolical” plot carefully conceived and executed by a foreign terrorist organisation.
It said the assassination brought the democratic process in the country to a “grinding halt” as elections to the Lok Sabha and some state assemblies had to be postponed.
Convicts V Sriharan alias Murugan, T Suthendraraja alias Santham, A G Perarivalan alias Arivu, Jayakumar, Robert Payas, P Ravichandaran and Nalini have been in jail for 25 years.
The Supreme Court had on February 18, 2014, commuted the death sentence of three convicts - Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan - citing inordinate delay by the executive in deciding their mercy plea.
A day after on February 19, 2014, the then J Jayalalitha government in Tamil Nadu wrote a letter to the then UPA government at the Centre seeking its opinion on the remission of the sentences awarded to all the seven convicts.
Instead of giving its opinion, the Centre had rushed to the Supreme Court claiming itself as the competent authority to decide on remission and not the state government, under the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The apex court on February 21, 2014, passed an interim order and stayed the release of all seven convicts in the case and referred the matter to a five-judge constitution bench.
The Centre had asserted that the killers of the former prime minister did not deserve any mercy as the assassination was the result of a conspiracy involving foreign nationals.
The Tamil Nadu government, on the other hand, had said that the states have power to grant remission under the law and trashed the accusations that its decision to release the seven convicts was “political and arbitrary”.
On December 2, 2015, the constitution bench held that the Centre has “primacy” over state’s right to grant remission and its “concurrence” is necessary before freeing the convicts in certain cases.
On February 8, 2017, the top court dismissed the pleas of the Tamil Nadu government and convict A G Perarivalan alias Arivu seeking review of its judgement.
After Gandhi’s assassination on May 21, 1991, the probe was transferred to a Special Investigation Team of the CBI on the request of the Tamil Nadu government.
The SIT had named 41 accused in its charge sheet - including 12, who died in the blast and three who were absconding - before a TADA court in Chennai. The prolonged trial culminated in 1998, when the TADA court sentenced 26 of the accused to death.
In May 1999, the apex court upheld the death sentence of four, including Murugan, Santham, Perarivalan and Nalini, commuted the death sentence of three to life, and freed the remaining 19.
In April 2000, the Tamil Nadu governor commuted the death sentence of Nalini on the basis of state government’s recommendation and an appeal by former Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The death sentence of remaining three convicts were commuted in February 2014, by the apex court on the ground of inordinate delay of 11 years in deciding the mercy petitions.