In a massive development pertaining to the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of AG Perarivalan, one of the life convicts in the case, who has been behind bars for the last 31 years. The decision comes as a judgement on whether the Tamil Nadu governor was constitutionally right in referring Perarivalan’s plea for pardon to the President of India without taking a decision.
The apex court in its order also noted that no exercise under Article 161 can have an inexplicable delay and it can be subjected to judicial review. Earlier, the Tamil Nadu government asked the Governor to utilise the power under Article 161 of the Indian Constitution and grant a pardon to Perarivalan and other convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The governor, however, referred the matter to the President of India, on which the President has to take a call.
On the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to pardon the convicts, SC noted that the state cabinet of Tamil Nadu had taken its decision based on relevant considerations. The apex court further added that in the exercise of Article 142, it is appropriate for the court to release the convict.
Earlier, the apex court disapproved of the Governor’s action of sending the mercy plea of Perarivalan to the President stating it cannot shut its eyes to something against the Constitution. It is pertinent to mention that the ongoing case in the apex court was part of a 2015 remission plea that Perarivalan submitted to the Tamil Nadu Governor, seeking release under Article 161 of the Constitution. When he received no response, he moved to the Supreme Court.
It is pertinent to mention here that on March 9, the SC granted bail to AG Perarivalan on the grounds that the convict had already served the last 31 years in jail. The bail was granted by a bench comprising Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice BR Gavai. The court noted that they have considered that the accused has spent the past three decades in the prison and is entitled to be released on a bail. The bail order was vehemently opposed by the Centre in the court. Prior to this, AG Perarivalan had been granted parole twice last year. In July 2021, his parole was further extended by a month at the request of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin.
After taking CM charge, MK Stalin in 2021 had written to President Ram Nath Kovind to accept the recommendation made by the Tamil Nadu government in 2018 to release all seven convicts in the case. He said that the convicts have been undergoing the “agony of imprisonment” for the last three decades and said that majority of political parties have been demanding remission of their life sentences.
In 2018, the Tamil Nadu government had recommended to Governor Banwarilal Purohit to release all convicts. However, three years later, the governor declined to make a decision and informed that the President was the competent authority. On February 4, 2021, Tamil Nadu Governor Banwari Lal Purohit had proposed that the President is competent to deal with the request for remission of the sentence of Rajiv Gandhi assassination convict AG Perarivalan.
Rajiv Gandhi assassination
On 21 May 1991, former Prime Minister and Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) suicide bomber when he was campaigning for the party at Sriperumpudur. AG Perarivalan was arrested on 11 June 1991 and was convicted of procuring a 9-volt battery for the explosive device. V Sriharan alias Murugan, his wife Nalini, AG Perarivalan, Santhan, Jayakumar, P Ravichandran, and Robert Payas were the seven individuals convicted for Rajiv Gandhi’s killing.