Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit is understood to have referred to the Union Home Ministry the recommendation of the State Cabinet to remit the sentence of seven life convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and release them.
They are Indian nationals Nalini, Perarivalan and Ravichandran, and Sri Lankans and members of the now defunct LTTE Murugan (husband of Nalini), Santhan, Robert Payas, Jayakumar.
The Governor has referred the issue to New Delhi because the Centre had rejected an earlier proposal made by former Chief Minister J Jayalalitha on Feb 19, 2014 to release the remaining seven convicts who have been in jail since the assassination of the former Prime Minister on May 21, 1991.
Jayalalitha made the proposal a day after a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice S Sathasivam commuted the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan on the ground of inordinate delay on the part of the President in taking a decision on their clemency plea.
While doing so, the CJI said the State Government could use its statutory power of remission under the Criminal Procedure Code to release them, but with the concurrence of the Centre as the case had been investigated by the CBI, a Central agency.
The Centre refused to give concurrence on the ground Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a foreign terrorist organisation and releasing the convicts would set a “dangerous precedent” and have “international ramifications”
The UPA challenged Jayalalitha’s proposal in the Supreme Court and got a stay. The subsequent NDA Government of Narendra Modi also stuck to that line.
It was on that pending writ petition that a three –judge bench of the Supreme Court asked the Tamil Nadu Governor to consider the remission petition of Perarivalan pending with him since December 30, 2015.
In making this oral observation, the bench was guided by a 2015 Constitution Bench ruling that the Governor’s power to pardon or remit sentence cannot be touched regardless of whether a case was investigated by a Central agency or not . The Constitution bench made this clear after ruling that life imprisonment means for the life time of the convict. Such being the case, it said courts should not shut out a glimmer hope for convicts by denying their right to seek the constitutional remedy of remission vested with the Governor.
The latest order of the Supreme Court was seen by the Edappadi Government as a chance to get all seven released as desired by Jayalalitha. Accordingly, it sent its cabinet recommendation to the Governor.
As the Centre has taken such a strong line against release of the convicts and legal and humanitarian issues are involved, the Governor has sought the view of the Union Home Ministry.
The Tamil Nadu Government says the Cabinet decision is binding on the Governor. However, he cannot be prevented from seeking counsel from the Centre. As no time limit can be fixed for the Governor, the future of the convicts hangs in the balance.