A day after the Tamil Nadu government announced that it would free seven people convicted of killing former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Supreme Court Thursday restrained the state from releasing three of the seven whose death sentences it had commuted to life imprisonment as it agreed to examine if the state had complied with procedure when it decided to remit their sentence.
Admitting a petition by the Centre, a bench led by Chief Justice P Sathasivam ordered the state government to “maintain status quo prevailing as on date” in respect of convicts Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan until March 6.
While issuing notices to the Tamil Nadu government and the three convicts, the bench turned down Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran’s plea to also stay the state’s decision to free the other four convicts in the case.
It said the court’s verdict Tuesday on commuting the death sentence was passed on petitions by only the three men and hence no orders could be passed for the other four.
The court also said that the Centre was “justified” in approaching it since every state was expected to follow the procedure laid down in the code of criminal procedure and in case of a failure, the court can examine the dispute.
Later in the day, the Centre also filed a review petition against the verdict that had commuted the trio’s death penalty to life term on the ground of inordinate and inexplicable delay in deciding their mercy petitions.
The court order came as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned Tamil Nadu’s decision, terming it as “legally untenable” and “contrary to all principles of justice.” Singh added that no government or political party should have double standards when it comes to fighting terrorists.
A day after Jayalalithaa’s cabinet announced its decision to release the seven convicts and sent a resolution to the Centre, Parasaran showed up before the bench and sought an urgent hearing to restrain the state from taking any steps for releasing the convicts.
He said the convicts were held guilty under various laws upon which power of the union extended and hence the “appropriate government”, as stipulated under the CrPC, was the Centre and not the state for deciding on remission.
The court responded: “Various judgements of this court have clarified that it is not automatic remission or release (after serving 14 years in jail). Authorities have to give special reasons. We appreciate the provisions of the CrPC and the state needs to have views of the Centre. Every state government is expected to follow the procedural aspect.”
The bench, also comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N V Ramana, added it was not going to express any opinion on the government’s intention of filing a review against the impugned judgement but it will certainly examine the procedural compliance by the state.
However, senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, who appeared for Tamil Nadu, opposed the Centre’s contention, saying the plea was “premature” and asked if they were justified in moving the court at this stage.
The bench immediately shot down his argument. “Yes, they are justified. Every state must be aware of the procedure. You must be aware of the procedure. We could have simply said that the death was commuted to life term. Why did we say this would be subject to CrPC provisions? We are inclined to go into this issue,” it said.
Dwivedi stressed the powers of the state under the constitution to grant remission to the convicts and said that instead of restraining, the court should simply say that the Tamil Nadu government will pass “appropriate” orders.
The bench however retorted: “Are we underestimating it (your power)? All that we are saying is that if a procedure is laid down, do it in accordance with it. Such issues will keep coming up. For the time being, we are going to ask the state government to maintain status quo.”