The Supreme Court on Friday referred the matter on remission of life imprisonment of seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case to a constitution bench and said its interim order staying the Tamil Nadu government's decision to free them will continue.
A combination picture of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. (Agencies photo)
A bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam said that the petition filed by the Centre, challenging the Tamil Nadu government's decision to remit the sentences, will be decided by the Constitution Bench and framed seven questions to be decided by it.
It was Sathasivam's last working day as the CJI.
The SC said that the Constitution Bench, which will take up the matter within three months, will also decide whether the sentence of a prisoner, whose death penalty has been commuted to life, can be remitted by the government.
Reacting to the SC decision, Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D Raja said the apex is right in asking the constitutional bench to decide on sensitive issues like the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
"Supreme Court has tried to make it clear how both the state and central governments should share powers. There is a need for more clarity on these questions, which is imperative for the judicial system in our country. Keeping all these views in mind, the Supreme Court has rightly asked the constitutional bench to state its position within three months," Raja said.
On February 18 this year, the apex court had commuted the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan (both Sri Lankan Tamils) and AG Perarivalan on the ground of 11 years delay in deciding their mercy pleas by the Centre.
Besides the three, Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran were the other four convicts whose release was decided by the Tamil Nadu government.
On February 19, Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, announced their immediate release from prison prematurely by invoking provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Assailing the decision, the Centre rushed to the Supreme Court, which stayed their release on February 20.
It had also rejected the Centre's submission that there was no unreasonable delay in deciding their mercy plea and the condemned prisoners did not go through agonising experience as they were enjoying life behind the bars.
Gandhi's assassins were convicted by a TADA court in January 1998 and were awarded death sentence, which was confirmed by the apex court May 11, 1999.
Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan are currently lodged in the Central Prison, Vellore, in Tamil Nadu and they are in incarceration since 1991.
Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran, are undergoing life sentence for their role in the assassination of Gandhi on May 21, 1991 in Sriperumbudur.
(With PTI and ANI inputs)