You must know: What is Article 142 that powered Supreme Court to release Perarivalan?

The Supreme Court has on Wednesday- May 18 scripted a historical judgement by granting a complete release to AG Perarivalan, one of the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. After experiencing an extraordinary prison term of 31 years, Perarivalan has been set free.

The historical verdict of the apex court has been welcomed by thousands of people in Tamil Nadu as it has poured a permanent respite to his parents- particularly his mother Arputhammal who fought an incessant legal battle to have his son released. 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.  

Significantly, the Supreme Court has exercised its power as per the constitution and invoked Article 142 to release Perarivalan. The verdict has also set a benchmark in the Indian history of the judiciary in releasing the long-term convicts. The apex court bench, comprised of Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai, and AS Bopanna has 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.

As the verdict has turned heads from across the nation, let's take a look at Article 142 and the notable cases which had got its invocation,

When was the Article 142 implemented and what does it say: 

Article 142 was unanimously adopted by the Constitutional Assembly on May 27, 1949. The Article confers its plenary power to the Supreme Court and says, "The Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it, and any decree so passed order so made shall be enforceable throughout the territory of India in such manner as may be prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament and, until provision in that behalf is so made, in such manner as the President may by order prescribe". 

The Article further stipulates, "Subject to the provisions of any law made on this behalf by Parliament, the Supreme Court shall, as respects the whole of the territory of India, have all and every power to make an order for securing the attendance of any person, the discovery or production of any documents, or the investigation or punishment of any contempt of itself." While Article 142 has been in the spotlight, the apex court has restored using its power under this article in various notable cases. 

Notable cases where Article 142 was invoked: 

  • The Article was used by the apex court in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute case to hand over the disputed land to a trust formed by the Union government.
  • It was also used in the Babri Masjid demolition case against top BJP leaders LK Advani and Murali Manohar Joshi to transfer the criminal trial from Rae Bareli to Lucknow. 
  • Article 142 was invoked in 2014 to cancel the allocation of coal blocks granted from 1993 onwards, without any specific finding on wrongdoing by those who were allotted these blocks. 
  • It was used while awarding compensation to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1989 and the compensation of $470 million was ordered from the US-based Union Carbide Corporation. 
  • It was also used while banning the sale of alcohol within a distance of 500 metres on national and state highways across the country. 
  • Importantly, Article 142 was used while the probe was ordered into the spot-fixing scandal in the Indian Premier League series in 2013. 
  • The article was also used for restoring the white marble of the Taj Mahal. 
  • Now, it has again be invoked in granting a full release to Perarivalan. 

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 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.