Will decide in 4 weeks on mercy plea of Rajiv case convict: Tamil Nadu Guv to SC
Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit on Thursday told the Supreme Court that a decision on the mercy petition of one of the convicts serving a life sentence for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, AG Perarivalan will be taken within four weeks. The petition has been pending with the Governor since December 30, 2015.
During pendency of the mercy plea, the Tamil Nadu Cabinet in September 2018 recommended release of all seven convicts including Perarivalan for their involvement in the 1991 assassination. Citing inaction on part of the Governor tin deciding on his clemency plea moved under Article 161 of the Constitution, Perarivalan came to Supreme Court for passing necessary directions.
On Thursday, in a surprise turn of events, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for the Governor before a bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, S Abdul Nazeer and Indu Malhotra. Though the Governor is not a party in Perarivalan’s petition, the court wished to know his stand. Mehta informed the court that within three to four weeks, a decision will be taken “as per the Constitution”.
The bench recorded this statement and adjourned the matter for four weeks. The court’s order said: “The learned Solicitor General submitted that the application filed by the petitioner under Article 161 of the Constitution of India shall be considered within four weeks from today.”
In the past, the court had been critical of mercy petitions not being addressed. In this case, Perivalan has spent almost three decades in jail.
Perarivalan was among seven persons convicted by a Special TADA court for being part of the conspiracy to assassinate former PM Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991. In November 2020, during the arguments on Perarivalan’s petition, the Centre took a legal objection to the Governor having power to decide on the mercy plea. Additional Solicitor General (ASG) KM Nataraj who represented the Centre argued that the entire issue of granting remission in such a case lies with the President under Article 72 and not the Governor under Article 161.
Article 161 gives the Governor the “power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the state extends”.
The Raj Bhavan in Chennai said that an official statement will be made after receiving information from Solicitor General Mehta.
Perarivalan’s counsel, senior advocate Gopal Shankarnaraynan objected to the Centre taking this objection for the first time in these proceedings. He pointed out that in September 2018, the State Cabinet had already decided on the petitioner’s release. If this submission of Centre was accepted, Shankarnaraynan wondered what would happen to the pardon powers exercised by Governors over the past 70 years.
Perarivalan in his petition told the Court that after filing his mercy petition, the investigating officer in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case made a disclosure that he made a mistake by excluding the exculpatory parts of the statement given by Perarivalan during the recording of his evidence. Perarivalan has maintained throughout that he had no knowledge of the plot while supplying the battery that would go on to power the belt bomb used by the suicide bomber.
Tamil Nadu’s Additional Advocate General Balaji Srinivasan informed the apex court on November 3 last year that the Governor had sought a report from the Union Home Ministry under which a multi-disciplinary probe is underway on the larger conspiracy behind the former PM’s assassination.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which is spearheading the probe filed an affidavit before the top court on November 20, 2020 stating that it had nothing to do with this matter as remission under Article 161 was purely between the convict and the Governor.
In Tamil Nadu, both the ruling AIADMK and the Opposition DMK have previously spoken in support of the convicts’ release. In November last year, DMK president MK Stalin met the governor and urged him to release the seven prisoners on humanitarian grounds.
(With inputs from Divya Chandrababu)
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