Updated: February 5, 2021 8:34:46 am
Three days after the Centre assured the Supreme Court that Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit was set to take a call on release of Rajiv Gandhi assassination convict A G Perarivalan, the Governor’s office, on January 25, left a decision on pardon of all the convicts in the case to President Ram Nath Kovind.
On Thursday, the Centre conveyed the same to the Supreme Court in an affidavit, saying, “The proposal received by the Central government will be processed in accordance with the law.”
On January 22, hearing Perarivalan’s plea for release, the Supreme Court Bench had called the long delay on deciding the matter as “extraordinary”. The Centre had then said Governor Purohit would decide the matter within two-three days. On January 25, Purohit’s office communicated to the Centre that the President is “the appropriate competent authority” to deal with the remission of the sentence.
Incidentally, the issue figured in the Tamil Nadu Assembly on Thursday, with Chief Minister E Palaniswami saying they were waiting for a reply from the Governor, and that he had taken up the matter with Purohit for an expeditious decision, including on January 29. “I expect him to take a good decision in the matter,” the CM said.
The Tamil Nadu government first recommended pardon of the seven convicts, who have been in jail since 1991, mostly without parole, in September 2018. The Supreme Court then asked the Governor to decide the pardon plea “as he deemed fit”, and the Centre filed an affidavit in November 2020 affirming the same.
Justice (retired) K T Thomas, who was part of the Supreme Court Bench that had upheld the conviction of the seven in 1999, told The Indian Express that Purohit’s decision to hand over the remission matter to the President was “unheard” of. “Why is he doing that… even after the state Cabinet took a decision long ago? It is not the President but the Governor who should take a decision in this regard. It is dereliction on the part of the governor… Not taking a decision for 28 months and now what he did is not in consonance with the spirit of the Constitution,” Justice Thomas said.
Justice (retired) K Chandru of the Madras High Court called the governor’s actions “illegal”. “There were only two options: release or refuse to release. Now they have found a third option, which is not an option at all… When the Supreme Court says you (the Governor) have to take a decision, where is the question of sending it to the President?”
At the January 22 hearing in the Supreme Court, Justice L Nageswara Rao, heading a three-judge Bench, had noted that the Governor was delaying a decision taken by the state government. “This is an extraordinary issue.”
Earlier, in its affidavit to the Supreme Court in November 2020, after the Court had expressed its unhappiness over the matter, the Centre had said the CBI (the agency that investigated the case) had nothing to do with the remission of the sentence of the seven, and that the Governor of Tamil Nadu could “take a call”.
The seven accused had been convicted in May 1999, with four — Perarivalan, Nalini Sriharan and Sri Lankan nationals Murugan and Santhan — sentenced to death and three to life. Nalini’s death term was commuted to life in 2000, and that of the three others in 2014.
While a pardon request moved by Perarivalan in 2015 was not considered by the Governor, a Supreme Court order on a related petition in September 2018 had clarified that the Governor was “deemed fit” to decide on the pardon. Within three days, the AIADMK government had recommended that all the seven convicts be released.
In the Assembly on Thursday, CM Palaniswami accused the DMK of “political drama” by trying to convey that it was doing its best to get the seven convicts released, with an eye on getting people’s sympathy for the coming Assembly elections. He said while the then DMK government had only commuted Nalini’s death term while rejecting the mercy petitions of the three others, it was the AIADMK administration that had tried to get their terms commuted. Eventually, the Supreme Court had taken the call in 2014, after which Jayalalithaa had ordered their release and sought the Centre’s view, Palaniswami said.
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