Prisoners convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case deserve the death sentence, the Supreme Court said on Thursday as it refused to go into the merits of their conviction.
While hearing the plea of the convicts on commuting the death penalty to life due to delay in deciding their mercy plea, the apex court said, “They deserve death sentence, but the question is how long can they be kept in solitary confinement.”
The Supreme Court had on January 21 commuted sentences of 15 death row convicts, ruling that “inordinate and inexplicable” delays in their execution were grounds to change their sentences to life imprisonment. “Unexplained delay is a ground for commuting the death penalty to life sentence,” read a ruling from a three-judge panel headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Sathasivam on Thursday restrained the counsel appearing for the death row convicts to argue on the merit of the conviction.
The counsel appearing for the convicts submitted that there had been an unreasonable delay in deciding the mercy plea of convicts Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan. The counsel argued that while the mercy plea of several other prisoners had been decided, the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination had to wait because of the government.
The Centre, which is opposing the plea of the prisoners, will put forward its argument on February 4.
The apex court had in May, 2012, decided to adjudicate itself the pleas of Rajiv Gandhi killers against their death penalty and had directed that their petitions, pending with the Madras high court, be sent to it.
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The court had passed the order on a petition by one LK Venkat, seeking transfer of their pleas out of Tamil Nadu on the ground that free and fair hearing would not be possible in the state due to an unfavourable atmosphere.
On a petition by the three death row convicts, the Madras high court had earlier stayed their hanging and issued notices to the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government.
The main contention was that the delay in disposal of the mercy petitions by 11 years and four months made the execution of the death sentence "unduly harsh and excessive," amounting to violation of their right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.