The Supreme Court severs his plea for bail from the long-pending decision on his remission and the ongoing probe into larger conspiracy behind Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.
THE Supreme Court earlier today set at liberty the Rajiv Gandhi assassination convict A.G. Perarivalan on bail, noting that he has already spent over 30 years of imprisonment and there were no complaints about his conduct when he was released three times before on parole. Perarivalan is currently out on parole. Besides, his senior counsel, Gopal Sankaranarayanan told the bench that Perarivalan acquired higher educational qualifications, and rendered assistance in the library in jail.
Senior counsel for Tamil Nadu Government, Rakesh Dwivedi, told the bench that the question of Perarivalan’s remission would depend on whether the executive power of the Union extends over Section 302 (punishment for murder) of the Indian Penal Code. This is because the Supreme Court, in the V. Sriharan case in 2015, had held that the appropriate authority under Section 432(7) of the Criminal Procedure Code to decide remission of a convict would be the Union Government, if the offence pertained to a matter to which the executive power of the union government extends.
A bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai passed the order to this effect rejecting the union government’s vehement opposition against the bail to Perarivalan. Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj argued that Perarivalan is a convict who was sentenced to death before the Supreme Court had in 2014 commuted the same to life imprisonment, and the life imprisonment would mean imprisonment till life.
The Tamil Nadu Government had on September 9, 2018 recommended to the Governor to remit the sentence imposed on Perarivalan, and release him forthwith. However, the Governor made the reference to the President of India. The question as to which is the competent authority – the state government or the Centre – to decide on the early release of a convict is a legal issue which the Court will be hearing in April.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court had, on November 3, 2020, held that investigation into the conspiracy aspect of the assassination need not deter the Tamil Nadu Governor from deciding the plea for pardon of convicts like Perarivalan, who have already completed two decades of sentence. The Centre cited the ongoing probe by the Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Authority into the larger conspiracy behind Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination as a ground as to why Perarivalan’s remission cannot be decided now.
On January 22 last year, the Supreme Court had again requested the Governor to decide Perarivalan’s application for remission. Following this, the Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta informed the Court that the Tamil Nadu Governor would decide the application under Article 161 of the Constitutions within the next three-four days. On February 4 last year, the Centre informed the Supreme Court that the Governor had proposed that the President was the competent authority to decide Perarivalan’s remission.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs in an affidavit had told the Court that the Tamil Nadu Governor had opined that the President would be the competent authority to decide on the early release of Perarivalan. It had assured the Court that it would process the proposal in accordance with the law. However, no decision was forthcoming.
Perarivalan was sentenced to death in May 1999. He was accused of purchasing the 9-volt battery used to trigger the belt bomb that killed the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. In 2014, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence awarded to him to life imprisonment on account of inordinate delay in deciding his mercy petition. The Court gave similar relief to the other convicts in the case, namely, Murugan and Santhan (both Sri Lankans). Soon after, the then government in Tamil Nadu had ordered the release of all the seven convicts in the case. However, the decision was stayed by the Supreme Court.