Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit has forwarded to the Union Home Ministry a recommendation of the Tamil Nadu government to release the seven convicts sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case for its view, officials said Friday. The state government has sought the release of the seven convicts citing Article 161 of the Constitution, which empowers the governor to grant pardon and to suspend, remit or commute sentence in certain cases. The judicial division of the home ministry will examine the legal position of the case and take a view as per the law, a home ministry official said.
According to Article 161, the governor of a state shall have the power to grant pardon, reprieve, respite or remission 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. However, officials have earlier said, the governor has no power to release the seven convicts sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and will have to consult the Centre as per law since the investigation into the assassination was carried out by a CBI-led team.
The AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu had on September 9 recommended to the governor to release the convicts, a move hailed by most political parties in the state. The CBI-led Multi Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA), probing the larger conspiracy aspect behind the assassination, had a few months ago conveyed to the Supreme Court that the investigation into the case was “still open” and letters rogatory have been issued to different countries, including Sri Lanka, where some persons required to be investigated were currently residing.
Under Section 435 in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the state government will have to act only after consultation with the central government to remit or commute a sentence. On August 10, 2018, the Centre had opposed in the Supreme Court the proposal of the Tamil Nadu government to release the seven convicts, saying that setting them free would set a very wrong precedent. According to the Supreme Court verdict, the state government cannot remit sentence of any convict in cases probed by a central agency and the Centre’s approval is mandatory for releasing the killers of Rajiv Gandhi as the case was probed by the CBI.
“The central government, in pursuance of section 435 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, does not concur with the proposal of Tamil Nadu government contained in the communication letter dated March 2, 2016 for grant of further remission of sentence of these seven convicts,” the government had said in its reply to the apex court. On May 21, 2018, the CBI-led Multi Disciplinary Monitoring Agency had informed a bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi that the probe into the case was “still open” and letters rogatory have been issued to different countries, including Sri Lanka, where some persons required to be investigated were currently residing, another official.
“Under these circumstances, there is no material ground to alter the stand taken by the central government in the recent past,” the official said.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at a poll rally on the night of May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber, identified as Dhanu. Fourteen others, including Dhanu herself, were also killed in the explosion. The MDMA, set up in 1998 on the recommendations of Justice MC Jain Commission of Inquiry, had probed the conspiracy aspect of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and is headed by a CBI official and comprises officers from IB, RAW and Revenue Intelligence and other agencies.
In its May 1999 order, the top court had upheld the death sentence of four convicts — A G Perarivalan, Murugan, Santham and Nalini — in the assassination case.
In April 2000, the Tamil Nadu governor had commuted the death sentence of Nalini on the basis of the state government’s recommendation and an appeal by former Congress president and Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi. On February 18, 2014, the top court had commuted the death sentence of Perarivalan to life imprisonment, along with that of two other prisoners – Santhan and Murugan – on grounds of a delay of 11 years in deciding their mercy pleas by the Centre.
The other three convicts are Jayakumar, Ravichandran and Robert Payas. The apex court had in March this year dismissed a plea by Perarivalan seeking recall of the May 1999 verdict upholding his conviction. The charge against Perarivalan was that he had purchased two nine volt battery cells meant for detonating the bomb.