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Give victims a say in remission: Govt

New Delhi, July 23: The Centre today told a five-judge constitution bench that convicts involved in heinous crimes such as murder or terrorist activities should not automatically be granted remission without the victims’ families being heard.

On July 8, the bench had restrained all states and Union territories from granting remission to life convicts until it had decided on the Centre’s plea against the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to release Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins.

Solicitor-general Ranjit Kumar told the bench headed by Chief Justice R.M. Lodha that states ought not to grant remission to murder convicts without seeking the views of the victims’ family members. Just as convicts seek the right of remission, the victims too should enjoy the right to be heard before the government releases such prisoners, he said.

Section 432 of the CrPC empowers the states and Union territories to release prisoners on remission.

Kumar asked “whether there is a right of a victim of a death penalty convict to be heard at any stage or is it proper for the government to exercise its remission power only on the application of a convict without any reference to the victim or their family”.

As the case came up at the end of the day’s proceedings, the bench, also comprising Justices J.S. Khehar, J. Chelameshwar, A.K. Sikri and R.F. Nariman, said it would take up from tomorrow in-depth hearing on all issues relating to the power of remission, including the crucial question whether Tamil Nadu has the power to release Rajiv Gandhi’s killers.

A day after the Supreme Court on February 18 commuted to life sentence the death penalty of three of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers — Murugan, Santhan and A.G. Perarivalan — the Tamil Nadu government had ordered their release as well as that of four others serving life terms — Nalini, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran.

On an appeal by the Centre, the top court stayed the release first of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, whose death sentence it had commuted on the ground of a long delay in disposal of their mercy petition by the President, on February 20 and then the other four.

It also said it would frame guidelines/ rules for the release of prisoners on remission by the Centre and the states.

The Centre has argued that since the CBI, a central agency, had investigated Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the power to commute the sentence of the killers vests with the Union government.

The Jayalalithaa government is claiming it has the right under Section 432 and that it does not need the Centre’s concurrence.

Kumar said the Centre was not only assailing the power of states to grant remission in cases investigated by a central agency, but would be pleading for the rights of victims and their family members in all cases of heinous crime, including those probed by the states.

“Our arguments would not be confined only to death row convicts, but in all other murder cases where a sentence of imprisonment had been awarded,” Kumar said.