SC orders release of 6 convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case
The top court took into account that their conduct was satisfactory during incarceration and they have undertaken various studies
The Supreme Court on Friday directed the premature release of six convicts, including Nalini Sriharan and R P Ravichandran, serving a life term in the assassination case of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, noting that the Tamil Nadu government has recommended remission of their sentence.
Besides Nalini and Ravichandran, the four others to be released are Santhan, Murugan, Robert Payas and Jayakumar.
The top court also took into account that their conduct was satisfactory during incarceration and they have undertaken various studies.
A bench of justices B R Gavai and B V Nagarathna said the judgement of the top court in the case of A G Perarivalan, one of the convicts in the case, is equally applicable in their matter.
Invoking its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution, the top court had on May 18 ordered the release of Perarivalan, who had served over 30 years in jail.
Under Article 142, the top court may issue any verdict or order necessary to provide "complete justice".
"The court (SC) held that the Governor in a matter of remission of an appellant convicted under section 302 was bound by advice of state cabinet. Undisputedly, in the present case the cabinet has resolved grant of remission to all the applicants.
"We, therefore, find that the factors which weighed with this court while directing the release of A G Perarivalan are equally applicable to the present applicants.We direct that all the appellants are deemed to have served their sentence in relation to the crime.The applicants are thus directed to be released unless required in any other case," the bench said.
The Tamil Nadu government had earlier favoured the premature release of Nalini and Ravichandran, saying its 2018 advice for remission of their life sentence is binding upon the governor.
In two separate affidavits, the state government had told the top court that in a cabinet meeting held on September 9, 2018, it had considered mercy petitions of seven convicts in the case and resolved to recommend the governor for remission of their life sentences invoking the power granted under Article 161 of the Constitution.
Nalini and Ravichandran had moved the top court seeking premature release.
Both of them had challenged a June 17 order of the Madras High Court, which rejected their pleas for early release, and cited the apex court judgment ordering the release of co-convict Perarivalan.
Nalini, Santhan, Murugan, Perarivalan, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran were sentenced to life terms and spent over 23 years in jail.
The state government had earlier said it is the competent authority to take a decision on the petition filed by Nalini and Ravichandran under Article 161 of the Constitution and the "decision of the state cabinet dated September 9, 2018 thereon is final and it can be exercised by governor of Tamil Nadu as per the aid and advice of the cabinet".
Both Nalini and Ravichandran have been on ordinary leave (parole) from December 27, 2021 till date as sanctioned by the Tamil Nadu government under the Tamil Nadu Suspension of Sentence Rules, 1982 then and there based on their request.
Nalini has been incarcerated in special prison for women, Vellore for more than 30 years while Ravichandran is lodged in Madurai Central Prison and has undergone 29 years of actual imprisonment and 37 years of imprisonment, including remission.
The high court had on June 17 rejected the petitions of Nalini and Ravichandran, to order their release without even the consent of the state's governor.
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 a poll rally.
In its May 1999 order, the top court had upheld the death sentence of four convicts Perarivalan, Murugan, Santhan and Nalini.
However, in 2014, it commuted the death sentence of Perarivalan to life imprisonment along with those of Santhan and Murugan on grounds of delay in deciding their mercy petitions.
Nalini's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2001 on the consideration that she has a daughter.