The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that state governments cannot exercise discretion to remit the sentence of convicts tried under the provisions of Central laws. The five-judge apex court bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu passed its verdict on the constitutional issue that had arisen out of Tamil Nadu government’s decision to set free the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
With this verdict, the Supreme Court had made it clear that all seven convicts in the case will remain in jail.
“Tamil Nadu govt cannot grant remission to convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case without concurrence of Centre… States do not have suo motu power to grant remission to convicts under CrPC provisions,” the bench said in its verdict.
The state government of Tamil Nadu had on February last year decided to remit the sentence of seven convicts — Murugan, Santhan and Arivu, Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran — found guilty in the assassination case of former Prime Minister.
The decision to set free all the seven convicts was taken by Jayalalithaa-led Tamil Nadu government after the Supreme Court had commuted the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan and Arivu to a life imprisonment due to an inordinate delay in executing the sentence owing to the pendency of their mercy plea. But the state government’s decision was immediately stayed by the Supreme Court after the Central government sought its intervention on the subject raising constitutional issue.
Giving a detailed verdict in the matter, the Supreme Court bench of CJI HL Dattu and Justices FMI Kalifulla, Pinaki Chandra Ghosh, Abhay Manohar Sapre and U U Lalit, ruled that the states cannot exercise statutory power to remit sentences of convicts, tried under central laws and probed by central agencies like CBI and NIA without consulting the Union government.
The apex court also added that though the states have power to grant remission, they cannot exercise it suo motu.
The five-judge bench, however, differed on the supplementary subject of whether the courts can quantify the jail term in offences involving life term as sentence. In a majority verdict by 3:2, the bench ordered that the courts indeed have the power to quantify the period of the sentence.
Santhan, Murugan and Arivu are currently lodged in Central Prison, Vellore. The other four are also undergoing life sentence for their role in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
46-year-old Rajiv Gandhi was the youngest Prime Minister of India who served the top office from October 31, 1984 to December 2, 1989. Mr. Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE terrorists on the night of May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu while he was campaigning for the on-going general elections for Lok Sabha.
(With inputs from the PTI)