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Court lock on Jaya’s key to killers
Relief does not mean automatic release: SC

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 the Union and the state governments shall both 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 Justices Ranjan Gogoi and 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.”

The court did not specifically identify the “appropriate government”, which suggests the question of who the final authority is — the state or the Centre — may be clarified during the proceedings. The court said it would determine the procedure for remission.

Speaking for the bench, Justice Sathasivam further said: “In para 31 of our judgment (commuting to life term the death sentences of 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 the 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 sentences were 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 sentences were 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. ( )

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 proper procedure was not being followed by the state government, adding that under Section 435 of the Criminal Procedure Code the consent of the Union government was mandatory.

Dwivedi, appearing for Tamil Nadu, sought to dispute this. But the bench cut him short, saying “we read the news about the decision to release….”

The bench 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.”