The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of AG Perarivalan, who was convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, Live Law reported.
Perarivalan, who has been in prison for over 30 years, had approached the court questioning the delay in his release despite the Tamil Nadu government’s recommendation to remit his sentence in 2018.
A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai and AS Bopanna ordered Perarivalan’s release after noting that the Tamil Nadu governor had delayed the decision to remit his sentence, Bar and Bench reported.
Powers of the governor under the Constitution’s Article 161 cannot be the reason for the delay and can be subjected to judicial review, the court said. The provision gives the governor powers to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment.
The court said that the long delay and the governor’s reluctance to take a call on the pardon plea has compelled the bench to invoke the constitutional powers under Article 142 to do justice to Perarivalan.
Article 142 of the Indian Constitution gives the Supreme Court the extraordinary power to pass an order that it deems necessary to provide complete justice.
Gandhi was killed on May 21, 1991, at an election rally at the Sriperumbudur town of Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber identified as Dhanu.
Perarivalan, who was 19 at the time, was convicted for purchasing a battery that was used by the assassins to trigger the bomb. He had claimed that his confession was taken under duress, according to The Indian Express.
V Thiagarajan, a former Central Bureau of Investigation official, who had taken Perarivalan’s confessions had accepted that he had altered his statement to qualify as a confession. He had agreed that Perarivalan had no information regarding the use of the battery.
In 1999, 26 persons were sentenced to death for planning the assassination. But later that year, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of only four of them – Perarivalan, Nalini Sriharan, her husband Murugan and Santhan. Murugan is a Sri Lankan national.
However, Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in April 2000 and Perarivalan, Santhan and Murugan’s death sentences were also commuted to life imprisonment in February 2014.
‘Struggle of three decades’
On Wednesday, Perarivalan said that his release was a result of his mother Arputhammal’s struggle over the last three decades, The Indian Express reported.
“She has faced lots of humiliations, insult, and pain over these years,” Perarivalan said. “[Our] honesty in [this] case was what gave both of us the strength to fight this battle. The verdict is a victory for her struggle.”
He added: “I have just come out. It has been 31 years of a legal battle. I have to breathe. Give me some time.”
Speaking to reporters, Arputhammal thanked everyone for their support in the case.
“Only if we sit and think, we will know the pain of a person who has spent most of his life inside a prison,” she said, according to The Indian Express. “My son has overcome that now.”