The Supreme Court on Wednesday (2 December 2015) ruled that the Tamil Nadu government has no suo motu power to grant remission and release the convicts in the assassination case of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi without a nod from the Centre. Having answered the question of law, the court said the validity of the Tamil Nadu government’s decision communicated to the Centre to grant remission and release the convicts accused of conspiracy in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case would be examined by the three-judge bench.
The constitution bench headed by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu said this noting that the seven questions referred to it by the three-judge bench for consideration did not include the challenge to the February 19, 2014, letter of the Tamil Nadu government to the Centre proposing to remit the sentence of the convicts.
The constitution bench — also comprising justices F.M.I. Kalifulla, Pinaki Chandra Ghosh, Abhay Manohar Sapre and U.U. Lalit — in their judgment said the state government could grant remission and release the convicts only in consultation with the central government in cases investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The entire issue was rooted on the conflicting position taken by the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government on the latter’s move to release V. Sriharan alias Murugan, A.G. Perarivalan alias Arivu and T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan after the apex court on February 18, 2014, commuted their death sentence to life imprisonment, holding that inordinate delay of 11 years by the President of India in deciding their mercy petition was unreasonable and de-humanizing.
In cases of heinous crimes, the court by a majority verdict held that it could in special category of cases substitute the death sentence by life imprisonment, meaning beyond 14 years or the whole life without any remission by the government.
“We hold that a special category of sentence, instead of death can be substituted by the punishment of imprisonment for life or for a term exceeding 14 years and put that category beyond application of remission is well-founded and we answer the said question in the affirmative,” the court had said referring to the ratio of the apex court judgment in an earlier Swamy Shradhananda case.
The majority judgment was delivered by Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla for himself and for Chief Justice H.L. Dattu and for Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh.
Disagreeing with the majority view on this issue alone, Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre said: “In our view, it would not be open to the Court to make any special category of sentence in substitution of death penalty and put that category beyond application of remission, nor would it be permissible to stipulate any mandatory period of actual imprisonment inconsistent with the one prescribed under CrPC.”