In a major setback to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, the Supreme Court on Thursday restrained her government’s decision to release four more convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
The apex court also issued a notice to the Tamil Nadu government and the four prisoners on the Centre’s plea against their release and posted the matter for next hearing on March 6.
The apex court passed the order after hearing the Centre’s plea challenging the Tamil Nadu government’s announcement to release the assassins of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
The order was passed by the apex court bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam.
The bench had agreed to hear the plea after Additional Solicitor General Siddharth Luthra told the apex court during the previous hearing in the case that the Tamil Nadu government had no jurisdiction to release the conspirators.
Last week, responding to a petition by the Centre, the Supreme Court stayed the release of three of seven convicts – Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan – whose death sentence was commuted because of an exceptional delay in a decision on their mercy plea.
The Tamil Nadu government claimed that the court had not stopped it from releasing the four other convicts, Murugan’s wife Nalini Sriharan, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran.
Less than 24 hours after the top court commuted the death sentence of the three convicts, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced that all seven convicts in the case would be freed. She also asked the Centre to give its views “within three days”, after which, the TN chief minister said, she would go ahead.
Reacting to the development, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also said that letting off the convicts would be contrary to all principles of justice as Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination was “an attack on the soul of India.”
The convicts have spent over 20 years in jail. Nalini, who was earlier on death row, was granted mercy on the intervention of Rajiv Gandhi’s widow and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 by a woman operative of the Lankan Tamil separatist outfit LTTE, who greeted him with a bomb strapped to her chest during a rally in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu. For years, the case has been linked to Tamil sentiment and all regional parties in the state have campaigned for the convicts’ release.