AG Perarivalan, one of the seven convicts in the assassination case of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, has finally been set free by what has become a historical verdict of the Supreme Court. With this significant judgment, Perarivalan has won a complete release after 31 years of incarceration and beyond awarding a huge relief to his parents, the judgment has also poured light on the rest of the convicts, who are still lodged as inmates.
The verdict from Supreme Court on Wednesday - May 18 has set a benchmark in the Indian history of the judiciary in releasing the long term convicts. As Perarivalan had been lodged in prison since 1991, he has been one of the Indian prisoners to have an extraordinary sentence. He was too close to the gallows until his death sentence was commuted by the apex court. After an incessant legal battle from Perarivalan and his mother Arputhammal, the top court has finally set him free from the assassination case.
The Supreme Court has on Wednesday invoked its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution and released Perarivalan, who was already on bail. The apex court was of the view that the inappropriate delay in deciding Perarivalan's early release plea by the Governor under Article 161 has warranted his release. Perarivalan has approached the top court over a delay caused by the Governor in his release despite a recommendation given by the Tamil Nadu government in 2018 to remit his sentence.
The case has also sparked a legal dispute over whether President or Governor is the appropriate authority to decide on Perarivalan's remission plea. The apex court bench comprising of Justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai had observed that the Tamil Nadu cabinet has decided to grant remission to Perarivalan on relevant considerations. The bench has noted that the inordinate delay by the Tamil Nadu Governor in exercising his powers under Article 161 of the Constitution can be subject to judicial review.
The apex court has further refused to accept the Union Government's submission that the President has exclusive power to grant remission in cases pertaining to section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, opining that otherwise, powers of the Governor under Article 161 would be rendered otiose. The bench has highlighted that the state government is well-within its authority to aid and advice the Governor in pardon/remission pleas pertaining to cases of murder.
The verdict has also been touted to have given a big blow to the current Tamil Nadu Governor and to his predecessor for their idling state in deciding on the recommendations made by the state government to remit Perarivalan. He was awarded the death penalty in 1998 by a TADA (Terrorists and Disruptive Activities Prevention) court. The death sentence was then confirmed by the Supreme Court in 1999, but later, the court commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment in 2014.
He was imprisoned under the charges of buying nine-volt batteries, which were used in the improvised explosive device that killed Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 when the latter has visited Sriperumbudur in Chennai. Decades later, a CBI official, who had recorded Perarivalan's statement, said that he had failed to record the confession that Perarivalan didn't know the purpose of the two batteries he was asked to purchase.
For the past seven years, Perarivalan had waged a legal battle through his mercy petitions. In November 2021, the CBI had told the apex court that the Tamil Nadu Governor has to decide on granting remission to Perarivalan. In March this year, he was awarded bail by the Supreme Court based on his conduct and after he had spent three decades in prison. The court has also divulged that it was unhappy over the pendency of Perarivalan's plea over the years with the Tamil Nadu Governor.