New Delhi, Feb. 20: The Jayalalithaa government was today restrained from releasing Rajiv Gandhi’s killers by the Supreme Court, which said every government was expected to follow procedure and that commutation of death sentence did not mean the convicts could be automatically freed.
Acting on an appeal by the Centre, the court said both the Union and the state governments shall maintain status quo.
In other words, the convicts cannot be released until further court orders.
A three-judge bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice N.V. Ramana said: “Yes, we have commuted but it does not mean that they can be automatically released. The appropriate government or authority must give proper reasons for the release.”
Speaking for the bench, Justice Sathasivam further said: “In para 31 of our judgment (commuting to life the trio) we have made it clear that the appropriate government can consider remission, subject to Section 432 provision. Other procedural aspects they have not followed.
“We are not expressing anything or our views now. We will hear all. We are concerned with the procedural lapses. Every state is expected to follow the procedure. The appropriate government is expected to follow the procedure.”
The court listed matter for hearing on March 6.
The order of status quo has been interpreted in different ways in legal circles, as to whether it would apply only to the three convicts whose death sentence was commuted by the apex court or all the seven that Jayalalithaa has promised to release.
While senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the state government, claimed the order applies only to the three convicts whose death sentence was commuted this week, solicitor general Mohan Parasaran said later that none of the seven convicts can be freed until the court decides the issue.
In order to avoid confusion, the Centre is planning to move a fresh application tomorrow pleading that Jayalalithaa be restrained from releasing all the seven convicts. The Centre is also expected to seek a review of the ruling to commute the death sentences of the three to life.
Parasaran had made a special mention of the Tamil Nadu government’s decision at 10.30am and the court listed it for hearing at 12.45pm.
Parasaran told the bench that “an extraordinary situation has arisen as the Tamil Nadu government had given us an ultimatum that within three days if we don’t give consent, they will release seven convicts.”
He told the court that proper procedure was not being followed by the state government, arguing that under Section 435 CrPC the consent of the Union government was mandatory.
Dwivedi, appearing for Tamil Nadu, sought to dispute this. But even before he could complete his sentence, the bench cut short him saying: “We have passed the judgment on Tuesday and we read the news in the newspapers on Wednesday about the decision to release. The chief minister of the state had made the statement on the floor of the House and the newspapers have reported it.”
The bench further said: “Why did we say the remission must be considered by the appropriate authority? Because we do not want to take away the powers of the state. But you have to follow the procedures. What is the procedure has to be determined by us.”
Later, it passed the following order: “Issue notice to the state of Tamil Nadu; inspector-general of prisons, Chennai; the superintendent, Central Prison, Vellore, and the convicts viz. V. Sriharan @ Murugan, T.Suthendraraja @ Santhan and A.G. Perarivalan @ Arivu returnable on 6th March, 2014.
“Mr Rakesh Dwivedi, learned senior counsel, accepts notice on behalf of the State of Tamil Nadu and other two officers. Till such date, both parties are directed to maintain status quo prevailing as on date in respect of convicts viz. V. Sriharan @ Murugan, T.Suthendraraja @ Santhan and A.G. Perarivalan @ Arivu. List on 6th March, 2014.”