SC dismisses plea against release of convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case

SC dismisses of plea against release of convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on the night of May 21, 1991, by a woman suicide bomber, identified as Dhanu, at an election rally.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday disposed of a plea of the kin of those killed along with former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, challenging the Tamil Nadu government's 2014 decision to release seven convicts in the assassination case.

A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna said that all relevant issues raised in the petition were decided by the 2015 constitution bench verdict of the apex court.

"Having considered the matter, we are of the view that no live issue remains for adjudication in view of the Constitution bench judgment of this court in Union of India versus V Sriharan alias Murugan and others. In view of the above, the writ petition stands disposed of," the bench said.

The Constitution bench verdict had come on a plea of the Centre challenging the Tamil Nadu's government decision of 2014 to remit the sentence of life imprisonment and to release the seven convicts.

It held that the Centre has primacy over states' right to grant remission in cases probed by central agencies like CBI and the state governments must secure concurrence of the Union government before freeing convicts in certain cases.

The apex court had said that the states cannot exercise "suo motu" the power to grant remission without any specific plea from the convicts.

The Petition by S Abbas and three others has challenged the decision taken in 2014 by the then chief minister J Jayalalithaa led government to release the seven convicts in the case.

S Abbas, now 36, was eight years old when his mother had died in the blast triggered by an LTTE suicide bomber in which the former Prime Minister was killed at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu on May 21, 1991.

The Centre had on August 10, last year told the apex court that it does not concur with the Tamil Nadu government's proposal of 2014 to release the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, claiming remission of their sentence will set a "dangerous precedent" and have "international ramifications".

On August 20, 47-year old Perarivalan alias Arivu, a convict in the case had told the apex court that no decision has been taken as yet on his mercy petition filed before the Tamil Nadu Governor over two years ago under Article 161 of the Constitution.

He had filed the petition on December 30, 2015, saying he had suffered over 24 years of solitary/single confinement.

He was charged with supplying a 9-volt battery which was allegedly used for the belt bomb that had killed Gandhi and 14 others.

Convicts Perarivalan, V Sriharan alias Murugan, T Suthendraraja alias Santham, Jayakumar, Robert Payas, P Ravichandaran and Nalini have been in jail for more than 25 years.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on the night of May 21 by a woman suicide bomber, identified as Dhanu, at an election rally. Fourteen others, including Dhanu herself, were also killed.

This was perhaps the first case of suicide bombing which had claimed the life of a high-profile global leader.

The apex court had on February 18, 2014, commuted the death sentence of three convicts - Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan - citing inordinate delay by the executive in deciding their mercy plea.

After Gandhi's assassination, the probe was transferred from the state police to a Special Investigation Team of the CBI at the request of the Tamil Nadu government.

The SIT had named 41 accused in its charge sheet - including 12, who died in the blast and three who were absconding - before a TADA court in Chennai.

The prolonged trial culminated in 1998, when the TADA court sentenced 26 of the accused to death.

In May 1999, the apex court had upheld the death sentence of four, including Murugan, Santham, Perarivalan and Nalini, commuted the death sentence of three to life, and freed the remaining 19.

In April 2000, the Tamil Nadu Governor had commuted the death sentence of Nalini on the basis of state government's recommendation and an appeal by Rajiv's wife and then Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

The death sentences of the remaining three convicts were commuted in February 2014 by the apex court on grounds of inordinate delay of 11 years in deciding their mercy petitions.  

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