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Delhi to contest death relief

New Delhi, Feb. 20: The Centre will on Friday file a review petition challenging the Supreme Court’s commutation of the death penalty to three of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers.

Official sources said the government would express fears that the relief for Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan would prejudice counter-terrorist activities in the country.

The review petition is now being vetted by law minister Kapil Sibal in consultation with attorney-general G.E. Vahanvati and solicitor-general Mohan Parasaran.

The matter is expected to be mentioned before Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam tomorrow with a request for an early and open hearing. This is because review petitions are generally dealt with within judges’ chambers.

The Centre is likely to move another application tomorrow, this one to restrain Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa from releasing any of Rajiv’s seven convicted killers.

According to the sources, the Centre is likely to challenge Tuesday’s judgment on the ground that mere delay in deciding mercy pleas cannot automatically lead to the commutation of death sentences of those involved in “heinous terrorist offences and those who waged war against the country”.

“Further, we will tell the court that a former Prime Minister of the country who was possibly returning to power was killed by terrorists who had hatched a conspiracy against the country,” a source said.

The plea will warn that any liberal approach in granting commutation to such terrorists is bound to blunt counter-terrorism measures and embolden terrorist elements, the sources said.

The other plea, to restrain Jayalalithaa from releasing any of the seven prisoners, is also crucial. Senior counsel Ashok Bhan, who appears for the CBI that had investigated the case, said the plea was required because today’s court stay was related to the death-row trio.

The Centre’s application, which led to the stay, had impleaded only the three. “Although the court’s directive for status quo would apply to all seven convicts, we are still filing an application to implead the other four to overcome any technical hurdle,” lawyer Bhan said.

In any case, the Jayalalithaa government cannot release the other four convicts until the matter is decided by the court, Bhan said. The four are Nalini — Murugan’s wife — Ravichandran, Robery Payas and Jeyakumar.

Solicitor-general Parasaran echoed the view.

“The challenge was to the decision of the Tamil Nadu government and that (the Centre’s application today) has been entertained. It will be wrong to release the others (the four) when the Supreme Court is seized of the challenge, and the court order never says the others can be released. If that is done it will be illegal and confronting the court. If they do it, they will face the consequences in the court,” Parasaran told The Telegraph.

Asked about the matter, Tamil Nadu additional advocate-general Subramanium Prasad claimed today’s stay pertained to the three whose death sentences were commuted.

“Though we have not taken any decision so far, I am of the view that the order would apply only to the three convicts whose names were mentioned in the Centre’s application today. But it is now for the state government to take a decision,” Prasad said.