The Supreme Court on Friday adjourned to October 17 the hearing on the plea filed by Nalini Sriharan, serving life sentence in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, seeking premature release. A bench of Justices B R Gavai and B V Nagarathna could not take up the matter due to paucity of time.
The Tamil Nadu government on Thursday had favoured the premature release of Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts Sriharan and R P Ravichandran, saying its 2018 aid and advice for remission of their life sentence is binding upon the governor.
In two separate affidavits, the Tamil Nadu government told the top court that in the cabinet meeting held on September 9, 2018, it had considered mercy petitions of seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and resolved to recommend the governor for remission of their life sentences invoking the power granted under Article 161 of the Constitution.
Nalini, Santhan, Murugan, AG Perarivalan, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran were sentenced to life terms and spent over 23 years in jail. The state government had 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.
On September 26, the top court had sought replies from the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government on a plea filed by Sriharan and Ravichandran seeking premature release. Both of them have challenged the June 17 order of the Madras High Court, which rejected their pleas for early release, and cited the apex court judgement ordering the release of co-convict — A G Perarivalan.
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. The high courts do not have the power under Article 226 of the Constitution to do so, unlike the Supreme Court which enjoyed the special power under Article 142, the high court had said while rejecting their pleas.
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, and said the Tamil Nadu governor ought not to have sent the “binding" advice made by the state cabinet for his release to the president. The apex court had said the advice of the state cabinet is binding on the governor in matters related to commutation/remission of sentences under Article 161 of the Constitution.
Under article 142, the top court may issue any verdict or order necessary to provide “complete justice". 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.
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