The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed state governments to grant remission and release life convicts not held guilty under central laws such as the anti-terror law or prosecuted by the CBI.
The interim order will not apply to offences such as rape and rape-cum-murder where the convict has been sentenced to life. Those jailed for their entire life shall not benefit from the order. The court, however, questioned the Centre on the rationale behind sentencing convicts for their whole life.
The apex court said states could grant remission where no application was preferred (by the accused) or considered suo motu by the state earlier.
“We also permit the President under Article 72 and the governor under Article 161 to exercise their constitutional powers to grant remission or clemency in such cases,” the court said in its interim order.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice (CJI) HL Dattu vacated a July 2014 Supreme Court order restraining premature release of all life convicts who sought remission. The 2014 order had come on a petition moved by the Centre challenging the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to grant remission to former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s killers.
The Jayalalithaa administration had ordered their release within days of the Supreme Court commuting their death sentences to life on the grounds that the executive had decided their mercy plea after a delay of 11 years. The apex court had said no life convict would be allowed to walk free until it decided on the validity of Tamil Nadu’s decision.
The Tamil Nadu government on Thursday defended in the Supreme Court its decision to release Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, saying there was nothing wrong with the state invoking remission powers even after the governor or the President had rejected their mercy pleas.
“These powers are co-extensive and can be parallely exercised,” senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi appearing for the state government said.
Earlier, the bench posed questions to the Centre on whether there could be a bar on a convict from moving the executive for mercy more than once. On the case before it, the court said when the convicts moved the President for mercy they were facing the death sentence but circumstances changed when Tamil Nadu decided to release them.
“They were no longer death sentence convicts after the Supreme Court commuted it to life,” the bench noted.
The constitution bench asked the Centre about the rationale behind imprisoning convicts for their entire life, saying if they could not be granted remission then it was better to sentence them to death. The court’s observation came when the Centre said a convict cannot ask for mercy again if it is rejected once.
“All of us live in hope. What is the point in keeping a man in jail for his whole life if he cannot get remission? Give him the death sentence. That will be better,” the bench said. “We follow the reformatory penal system. If there is no scope of remission then why would a convict, serving life term, try to reform himself?”