THE SUPREME Court on Monday issued notice to the Tamil Nadu government on separate pleas filed by Nalini Sriharan and R P Ravichandran — both serving life sentence in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case — seeking premature release.
A bench of Justices B R Gavai and B V Nagarathna asked the state government to respond to the duo’s pleas challenging the June 17 order of the Madras High Court dismissing their prayer for early release.
In the HC, the duo had cited the SC’s May 18 order by which the top court exercised its special powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to direct premature release of their co-convict A G Perarivalan.
The HC, however, said it did not have the special powers which the SC has under Article 142, and it cannot allow the relief sought without the Governor’s assent.
On September 9, 2018, the Tamil Nadu government had recommended premature release of all the seven convicts in the case. The recommendation remained pending before the Governor, who finally said that the “President is the appropriate competent authority to deal with the…request”.
Nalini and Ravichandran had urged the HC to order their release without waiting for the Governor’s approval.
“Even the apex court in the case of A G Perarivalan… has not ordered for release of the accused holding that without the signature of the Governor to accept the resolution, a direction can be given by the High Court… The aforesaid goes to the root of the case to hold that without the signature of the Governor to authorise the resolution, this court cannot pass an order directing the state government to release the accused,” the HC had said.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on the night of May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber, identified as Dhanu. Nalini and 25 others were sentenced to death by a designated TADA court in 1998. In 1999, the SC acquitted 19, upheld the death sentences of four — Perarivalan, Murugan, Santham and Nalini – and sentenced three others, including Ravichandran, to life imprisonment.
A year later, Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life term after Congress president Sonia Gandhi appealed to the state government. In 2014, the SC commuted the death sentences of Perarivalan, Santham and Murugan on grounds of delay in deciding their mercy petitions.