Robert Pious, one of the convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, has appealed for euthanasia. Pious, who is serving life imprisonment in the case, on Wednesday submitted a letter to the Puzhal prison authorities seeking permission to end his life. In a letter to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami, he said he should be killed on grounds of mercy and his body should be handed over to his family.
Lamenting the long years served in jail, Pious added that without the hope of release, the jail sentence has become an endless, hapless journey. But does Pious’ emotional appeal hold a legal validity in a country where mercy killing is still illegal?
Only in the case of Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who filed a mercy killing plea after remaining in a vegetative state for 42 years as a result of sexual assault, the apex court allowed removal of her life support system. The exception was laid down solely because the patient was in a permanent vegetative state for a long period. Even in countries where euthanasia is legal, it is granted only to terminally ill patients.
In 1998, Pious was sentenced to life after being found guilty in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Pious, a member of the LTTE commando team, had confessed being one of key conspirators in the killing of Gandhi. Pious had claimed that he joined the LTTE to seek revenge for the death of his child when Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was deployed in Sri Lanka by Rajiv Gandhi to maintain peace between the LTTE and the Sri-Lankans.
In 2014, the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa had demanded the release of all the convicts in the case. But the remission process was blocked by the Supreme Court stating that the decision to free the convicts lies with the Centre. In 2016, the Centre rejected the proposal to free Rajiv Gandhi killers ending all hopes for Pious.
Pious had in 2012 appealed for early release on the grounds that he had already served more years in jail than is required in a life sentence. But his appeal was turned down. Pious completes 26 years in jail this year. So why was is the appeal for early release turned down despite him spending more than 14 years in life?
What does the law say?
The commutation of life imprisonment is stated in Section 433 of CrPc which states that a sentence can be changed to life imprisonment for not more than 14 years. But the section does not define or specify the term for life imprisonment.
Neither does Section 53 (rigorous or simple imprisonment) read with Section 45 (defines “life”) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) mention the term defined for life imprisonment.
In 2012, the Supreme Court passed a judgment where the apex court held that a specified term for life imprisonment is a misconception and when awarded with a life imprisonment, it would hold the meaning of serving the imprisonment sentence for the convict’s entire life.
In its 39th report on the punishment of life imprisonment, 1968, the Law commission recommended some amendments in IPC and suggested to insert a new section after Section 55A IPC, which would state “Imprisonment for life shall be rigorous.” The report also recommended to differentiate between life imprisonment and rigorous imprisonment.