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Bid to tie convict loose ends

New Delhi, Feb. 24: The Supreme Court will on Thursday hear a fresh plea by the Centre to stay the release of four of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, other than the three whose death penalties were commuted last week.

The petition follows plans by the Jayalalithaa-led Tamil Nadu government to release all seven convicts. The Centre has in its plea described the proposed remission of their life terms as “malafide” and said the state had no powers to selectively release Rajiv’s killers.

An earlier application by the Centre for a stay had referred only to Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, who were spared the noose by the court.

Based on that plea, the court had ordered “status quo” but a controversy followed as the stay technically applied only to the trio, a point the state’s lawyers stressed.

The fresh plea was filed to nip the legal row by including the four others — Murugan’s wife Nalini, Jaya Kumar, Robert Payas and Ravi Chandran — in the stay plea.

Today, a bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi agreed to consider the latest plea after additional-solicitor general Siddharth Luthra, representing the Centre, pressed for an early hearing.

In its petition, the Centre has cited a 1995 apex court ruling that there is no justification for giving special remission to prisoners on the basis of caste, tribe, race or any other extraneous considerations.

“In the present case, the singling out of these seven prisoners by the state government is a malafide exercise of power and an attempt to selectively exercise a jurisdiction which does not vest with the state government,” the plea says.

The Centre describes the case as “one of the gravest”, pointing out that at no point of time had the convicts expressed remorse “for the heinous crime that led to the brutal death of many persons, including Rajiv Gandhi”.

According to the Centre, the horrific nature of crime, the role of the seven convicts and “the absence of remorse demonstrate that this is not a case for granting remission by the appropriate government, which in any case was not the state government”.

Jayalalithaa had announced on the floor of the Assembly that all seven convicts would be freed within three days if the Centre did not sanction their release.

However, the court had, acting on the Centre’s earlier petition, stayed the plan until it decided whether the state can release prisoners in a case probed by the CBI, a central agency.

The Centre has filed a separate review petition challenging the court’s order commuting the sentences of the three-death row convicts on the ground of the 11-year delay by the President in deciding their mercy petitions.

The February 18 judgment sparing Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan the death penalty passed by a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Sathasivam.