The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the premature release of Nalini Sriharan and five other convicts in the assassination case of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Live Law reported.
The five others granted early release by a bench of Justices BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna are Robert Pais, Ravichandran, Suthenthira Raja, Shriharan alias Murugan and Jaikumar. All the convicts were serving life sentences.
In May, the judges had also ordered the release of another convict AG Perarivalan. On Friday, the judges held that the order passed to release Perarivalan was applicable to the six other convicts also.
The court also noted that the Tamil Nadu government had recommended the release of the convicts, but that the governor had not acted on the recommendation. The judges said that the convicts had spent more than three decades behind bars, and that their behaviour in prison was satisfactory.
The court noted that five out of six convicts had pursued studies in jail, and that Raja had written several articles, for which he got awards.
In August, Nalini Sriharan, who had been sentenced for life, had moved the Supreme Court challenging an order of the Madras High Court, which on June 17 had dismissed her plea for early release.
Article 142 of the Indian Constitution allows the Supreme Court to pass an order that it deems necessary to ensure complete justice in a case.
Meanwhile, the Congress has said that the Supreme Court order was “unacceptable and erroneous”.
“The Congress party criticises it clearly and finds it wholly untenable,” the party’s General Secretary Jairam Ramesh said in a statement. “It is most unfortunate that the Supreme Court has not acted in consonance with the spirit of India on this issue.”
Tamil Nadu parties welcome SC decision
Soon after the Supreme Court order on Friday, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu welcomed the decision.
Chief Minister MK Stalin and DMK president said that his party had been pushing for the early release of the convicts even when they were in Opposition.
“Following Perarivalan, the Supreme Court has released six people including Nalini, a victory of our strong legal battles and humanity.” Stalin tweeted. “It is a victory of democratic theory and that the government’s decisions should not be shelved by those in appointed positions.”
Senior AIADMK leader D Jayakumar said that Friday’s judgement was a victory for his party, reported PTI. The former minister said that the DMK government from 1996 to 2001 commuted the death sentence of only Nalini into life term and did not take any steps for others.
“It is the legal efforts of late leader J Jayalalithaa and former Chief Minister K Palaniswami that has eventually culminated in the release of all convicts,” AIADMK leader said.
Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination
Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed in Sriperumbudur near Chennai on May 21, 1991, when an operative of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam detonated her RDX-laden belt.
The LTTE was seeking revenge for the Indian government’s decision to send troops to Sri Lanka to help the island nation fight Tamil separatists.
In 1998, a court had sentenced 26 people to death for the conspiracy to kill the former prime minister.
A year later, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of only four of them – Nalini Sriharan, Murugan, T Suthendraraja alias Santhan and AG Perarivalan. In 2000, Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.