New Delhi: The Supreme Court has stopped the Tamil Nadu government from releasing four of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins who are serving life terms. The court today said it will decide, within a week, whether the Centre or the state can decide on freeing all seven convicts in the case.
The Chief Justice of India, P Sathasivam said, “Our intention is not to stop the release. We will lay down guidelines. Every state must be aware of rules and procedure to be followed.”
The Centre had argued that Tamil Nadu had no right to take the decision to free the convicts, to which, the Tamil Nadu government said, “If we wanted, we could have released these four (who are serving life terms). Why should the Centre rush to court?”
The state government had claimed that there was nothing to stop it from releasing Nalini Sriharan, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran after the court stopped it from freeing three others – Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan – who were spared execution last week because of an exceptional delay in a decision on their mercy plea.
Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had announced on Thursday that all seven assassins would be freed, less than 24 hours after the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of three of them. She asked the Centre to give its view within three days.
In response, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said letting off the convicts would be contrary to all principles of justice as Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination was “an attack on the soul of India.”
The convicts have spent over 20 years in jail. Nalini, who was earlier on death row, was granted mercy on the intervention of Rajiv Gandhi’s widow and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Jayalalithaa’s announcement that she would let them off was seen by her critics as a blatantly populist move ahead of the national election three months away.