The Tamil Nadu government Wednesday wrote to the Ministry of Home Affairs seeking its opinion on releasing seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The letter stated that while the state has already decided to release the seven convicts, it is necessary to seek the Centre’s opinion under Section 435 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The J Jayalalithaa-led government had sent a similar note in February 2014 to the then UPA government after the Supreme Court 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 the court order, on February 19, 2014, the state suo motu ordered the release of all seven life convicts, but the Centre rushed to the Supreme Court and got their release stayed.
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The latest letter, written by the poll-bound state’s Chief Secretary K Gnanadesikan to Rajiv Mehrishi, secretary in the MHA, said that the Tamil Nadu government had received petitions from all seven convicts — Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan, Jayakumar, Robert Payas and Nalini — requesting that they be released since they had spent 24 years in prison. The letter also referred to a writ petition filed by Nalini in the Madras High Court seeking her release. It also mentioned that four of the seven convicts are Sri Lankan nationals.
Days after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination on May 21, 1991 by LTTE’s suicide bomber Thanu, the investigation was transferred to a Special Investigation Team of the CBI on the request of the Tamil government, which was under President’s Rule at the time. Within one year, the SIT chargesheeted 41 accused — including 12 who died in the blast and three who were absconding — before a TADA trial court in Chennai.
After a prolonged trial that lasted till 1998, the TADA court sentenced 26 of the accused to death. In May 1999, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of four, including Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini, commuted the death sentence of three to life, and freed the remaining 19. In April 2000, Nalini’s death penalty was commuted to life sentence by the Tamil Nadu governor on the basis of a recommendation of the state cabinet and a public appeal by Rajiv’s wife Sonia Gandhi.
In February 2014, the apex court commuted the death penalty for the remaining three convicts to life imprisonment, after dismissing the government’s appeal that the 11-year delay in deciding their mercy petitions did not entitle them to pardon.