THE TAMIL Nadu government resolved Sunday to recommend the release of all seven life convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case to Governor Banwarilal Purohit under Article 161 of the Constitution. All the seven convicts have served over 27 years in prison.
“The Governor, who is the executive authority of the state, will execute the decision taken by the government,” D Jayakumar, State Fisheries Minister, told reporters after a Cabinet meeting headed by Chief Minister E K Palaniswami.
The decision, which was taken following a recent Supreme Court order asking authorities to decide on a writ petition filed by one of the seven convicts, A G Perarivalan, was welcomed by the Opposition DMK and the AIADMK’s breakaway TTV Dhinakaran faction.
Perarivalan’s mother Arputhammal met the Chief Minister to thank the government for the recommendation, which is being seen as a boost for the ruling AIADMK. In September 2017, Palaniswami had granted one-month parole for Perarivalan and extended it by another month.
Last Thursday, noting that an application under Article 161 had been filed before the Governor by Perarivalan, the Supreme Court had said: “Naturally, the authority concerned will be at liberty to decide the said application as deemed fit.”
The apex court’s order came after the Centre informed it on August 10 that it did not concur with Tamil Nadu’s proposal to release the seven convicts. The Centre argued that any remission of sentence will set a “dangerous precedent” and have “international ramifications”. Following this, 47-year-old Perarivalan submitted before court that no decision had been taken on his mercy plea filed before the Tamil Nadu Governor on December 30, 2015, under Article 161 of the Constitution.
Before a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Naveen Sinha and K M Joseph, Perarivalan said he had served more than 24 years of solitary confinement and that he has undergone 27 years incarceration when life imprisonment is only for a maximum of 20 years.
In 2014, the Supreme Court had commuted the death sentence of three of the convicts — Perarivalan, Santhan and Murugan — to life terms on grounds of double jeopardy. Following this, the then J Jayalalithaa government decided to release the convicts but the move was stayed by the Supreme Court after the Centre opposed it.
On March 2, 2016, the Tamil Nadu government again sought the Centre’s concurrence on releasing the seven convicts. Subsequently, the apex court asked the Centre last January to take a decision within three months.
Among the seven convicts, the petitioner Perarivalan, who was 19 years old at the time of his his arrest in June 1991, was charged with supplying a 9-volt battery that was used for the belt bomb that killed Rajiv Gandhi and 14 others on the night of May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu.
In his petition, Perarivalan claimed that the assassination probe was not full-fledged but incomplete and partial. In 2013, CBI SP V Thiagarajan, who had recorded Perarivalan’s confession under TADA, claimed that he had altered the original statement. The officer, who had retired, claimed that Perarivalan never said he knew the battery he bought would be used to make the bomb that killed the former prime minister.
After the trial of the case, which was probed by a Special Investigation Team of CBI in 1990s, the TADA court sentenced 26 accused to death. In May 1999, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini, but commuted the death sentence of three others to life, and freed the remaining 19.
In April 2000, the Tamil Nadu Governor commuted the death sentence of Nalini on the basis of the state government’s recommendation and an appeal by Rajiv Gandhi’s wife Sonia Gandhi. In February 2014, the Supreme Court commuted ther death sentence of the other three to life.
Among the seven convicts who may benefit from the Cabinet decision, Perarivalan is from Jolarpettai in Vellore district, Nalini from Chennai and Ravichandran from Madurai. The others, including Nalini’s husband Murugan, Santhan, Robert Payas and Jayakumar, are Sri Lankan citizens.
According to jail officials, prison life had changed Murugan, who is often seen meditating. They said that Santhan is fully disconnected from his family and has become a priest at the Vellore central prison. Perarivalan has completed multiple courses and diploma programmes and was handling educational programmes for prisoners in Vellore until he was recently shifted to Puzhal prison in Chennai for treatment.
R Prabhu, Perarivalan’s counsel, expressed the hope that the government will “approach the procedure with utmost care”. “Our judicial system is reformatory, not retributory. Official documents about their reformation, mental health, socio-economic background and valid remarks from prison superintendents and heads of prisons should be conveyed in a proper way to the governor. It should be a proper judicial review as these reformed convicts who have already served over 27 years in jail shouldn’t be victims of lapses from the system in release procedure,” Prabhu said.