New Delhi, April 25: Rajiv Gandhi’s seven killers will remain in jail indefinitely as the Supreme Court today referred to a five-judge Constitution bench the question of whether the Centre or the state has the prerogative to decide on their release.
A three-judge bench headed by outgoing Chief Justice P. Sathasivam requested the Supreme Court to list the matter before a Constitution bench, preferably within three months.
It is now left to the next Chief Justice, R.M. Lodha, who takes charge tomorrow, to decide on setting up of the bench.
Until the Constitution bench settles the matter, the convicts — V. Sriharan alias Murugan, T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan, A.G. Perarivalan alias Arivu, Jayakumar, Robert Payas, S. Nalini and P. Ravichandran — will have to remain in jail.
The court passed the order on an appeal by the Centre challenging the Jayalalithaa government’s decision to release the convicts on remission after the top court commuted the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan and Arivu to life imprisonment on the ground of an 11-year delay in deciding their mercy pleas. Jayakumar, Payas, Nalini and Ravichandran were already serving life sentences.
The Centre challenged the Tamil Nadu government decision on the ground that since the CBI had investigated the matter, the power of remission vested with the Union government.
The state, on the other hand, claimed that it had the power and that Section 432 of the Criminal Procedure Code provided for only consultation with the Centre and not “concurrence”.
Chief Justice Sathasivam in his judgment wrote that such an issue had come before the apex court for the first time and hence it would be appropriate if a Constitution bench of at least five judges heard the matter.
The court also simultaneously referred to the Constitution bench the question whether a person sentenced to life imprisonment is entitled to any remission at all or should remain in jail throughout their natural life.
This issue came up because of conflicting judgments by different benches of the apex court, which while handing life sentences had been setting a minimum of 20-25 years in jail before remission in some instances and 14 years in others. In the case of Swamy Shraddananda, who brutally murdered and buried the body of his wealthy wife in Karnataka, a three-judge bench had ruled that while he did not deserve the death penalty, he had to remain in jail for the rest of his natural life.