The Supreme Court has on Friday - November 11 ended the three-decade incarceration of the remaining six convicts of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassination case as it ordered to release them from prison based on the ruling of setting one of the convicts free earlier this year. The viral verdict has swiftly drawn national attention with several voices welcoming the judgment.
The Supreme Court ruling in this high-profile case was pronounced by a bench comprising Justices BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna, which noted that the convicts have spent over three decades in prison and that their conduct during their jail term was satisfactory. The case had seven convicts - AG Perarivalan, Nalini, Robert Pais, Ravichandran, Santhan, Murugan alias Sriharan, and Jayakumar. They were convicted of killing the then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 in Sriperumbudur, Chennai.
In 1999, the Supreme Court awarded them the death penalty, and later, in 2014, the same judicial body commuted the sentence to life by citing a delay in executing the death penalty. By the time of this commutation, the convicts had already spent over two decades in the prison and of these seven, Nalini was described as the longest-serving woman inmate in India.
After years of legal battle, the Supreme Court earlier this May ordered the release of Perarivalan, and this meticulously-watched judgment set the possibility of the release of other six convicts, who are lodged at various prisons in Tamil Nadu. Five months after Perarivalan walked out free, the apex court has now opened the doors for six remaining convicts.
By ordering the premature release of all six convicts, the Supreme Court ruled, "The appellants are directed to be set at liberty if not required in any other matter." The bench passed the order following the direction passed on May 17, which granted relief to Perarivalan. The bench noted that the order of Perarivalan is applicable to the present applicants and that the Tamil Nadu Governor didn't act on the recommendations from the state government to release the convicts.
The judges observed that the convicts have spent over three decades in prison and that their conduct in the prison was satisfactory. According to LiveLaw, pronouncing the verdict, the court said, "In the case of Robert Pais, it is seen that his conduct is satisfactory and that he is suffering from various illnesses, he has obtained various degrees. In the case of Jayakumar, his conduct is found satisfactory and he has also taken various studies."
The court observed that in the case of Santhan, he is also suffering from various ailments and he has written various articles which have received awards and, in the case of Ravichandran, his conduct has also been found to be satisfactory and has undertaken various studies and he has done charitable activities. "As far as Nalini is concerned, she is a woman and has been incarcerated for a period of more than three decades and her conduct is also found satisfactory. She has also undertaken various studies. Sriharan's conduct is also found satisfactory and he has also undertaken various studies", the top court observed.
The court has also noted that all the remaining convicts were also released based on the recommendations for premature release made by the Tamil Nadu government. In 2018, the then-ruling ADMK government passed a resolution recommending the Governor to order the release of all seven convicts. On the other hand, Perarivalan's mother Aruputham Ammal was waging a legal battle to set his son free and Nalini had also filed petitions to the court pleading for a premature release.
However, the high court and the state government passed the ball on to the Governor's court and the Governor didn't act on the recommendation, despite the urge from the current DMK government. Perarivalan approached the Supreme Court seeking a premature release and in May this year, the apex court invoked its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution and ordered the release of Perarivalan and this verdict brought hope to the remaining convicts.
After the Supreme Court ordered the release of Perarivalan, Nalini and Ravichandran moved to the Madras High Court seeking premature release. However, the Madras High Court dismissed their petition observing that it lacks the special powers enjoyed by the Supreme Court under Article 142. The duo then approached the top court and their petitions were represented by senior advocates Sanjay Hegde and Gopal Shankaranarayanan, while veteran lawyer Rakesh Dwivedi appeared for the state government.
After the hearing and arguments, the Supreme Court on Friday poured relief to all the six convicts by ordering their release based on the direction given to Perarivalan, their conduct, and the state government's recommendation to the Governor. The top court observed that the legal reasoning for releasing a convict in the case was already established when Perarivalan was released and that the same arguments would apply in the cases of the other convicts.
"We have no reason to keep you in jail any longer", the judges observed. Coming down hard on the Governor, the court said that a Governor is bound by the resolutions a state government makes and highlighted that in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the Tamil Nadu Assembly passed multiple resolutions for the release of the convicts, and the cabinet has recommended the release of the convicts and sent the same to the Governor. However, the Governor's office refused to respond to the recommendations.
The court noted, "It can be seen that the Honorable Governor in the matter of an Appellant convicted for 302 - punishment for murder was bound by the decision of the state, which here has recommended remission for the applicants." In 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a suicide bomber of LTTE in Sriperumbudur, and in January 1998, a TADA court sentenced 26 accused to death. However, a year later, in 1999, 19 persons were acquitted while the rest seven - Perarivalan, Nalini, Murugan, Santhan, Ravichandran, Robert Pais, and Jayakumar were given the death sentence.
While Nalini's death sentence was commuted in 2000, the sentence on the rest was commuted in 2014, and eight years after being freed from the gallows, all the convicts got a supreme verdict to walk out of the prison. It is pertinent to note that in February 2014, the-then Tamil Nadu government led by Jayalalithaa announced that all seven convicts will be released. However, it was stayed the next day by the apex court, which now wrote a ruling of releasing them.