In their election manifestos released on Tuesday, both the AIADMK and DMK in Tamil Nadu have promised to secure the release of the seven convicted for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. The convicts — V Sriharan alias Murugan, T Suthendraraja alias Santham, A G Perarivalan alias Arivu, Jayakumar, Robert Payas, P Ravichandaran and Nalini — have served 27 years in prison.
Can the Tamil Nadu government release a prisoner?
The state government can recommend the release of a prisoner under Section 435(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. However, if the case pertains to a matter concerning the Union government, it can do so only after consultation with the Centre.
The AIADMK-led government had sought this course of action but failed to make headway last year after the Centre refused, saying it would set a “dangerous precedent” and have “international ramifications”.
In its letter, which was placed on record by the SC, the Centre said the assassination showed “exceptional depravity,” including the use of a woman as a human bomb. “The brutal act brought the Indian democratic process to a grinding halt in as much as the general elections to the Lok Sabha and Assemblies in some states had to be postponed,” the letter added.
What Article 161 of the Constitution states
The government can also go the Article 161 route. Article 161 of the Constitution states, “The Governor of a state shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the state extends.”
In September last year, the Tamil Nadu Cabinet had moved a petition before Governor Banwarilal Purohit seeking release of the convicts under Article 161.
The Supreme Court, taking note of this, had observed: “Naturally, the authority concerned will be at liberty to decide the said application as deemed fit.”
As the Governor acts on the advice of the state Cabinet, it is expected that he will order the release of the convicts. The Governor could also withhold his assent. The Governor’s decision, should he approve their release, could be challenged in court. The petition is currently pending before him.
One of the convicts serving a life sentence had also filed a mercy petition in 2015 seeking remission of his sentence under Article 161. Perarivalan, now 47, was 19 years old when he was arrested in connection with the assassination of the former prime minister. He has served over 24 years in solitary confinement, and 27 years of incarceration when life imprisonment is for a maximum 20 years. In his petition, Perarivalan claimed the probe was incomplete and partial.