The Madras High Court on Tuesday allowed Nalini Sriharan, a convict serving a life sentence in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, to appear in person on July 5 to seek six months’ leave from the prison, PTI reported. Sriharan has been lodged in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore central prison for over 27 years.

A division bench of Justices MM Sundaresh and M Nirmal Kumar granted Sriharan permission to argue her case at 2.15 pm on July 5.

Sriharan petitioned the court saying a life convict can get a month’s “ordinary leave” every two years, but she had not availed this even once in 27 years. On February 27, she had petitioned the prison authorities for six months’ “ordinary leave” to make arrangements for her daughter’s wedding. Her mother made a similar representation the next month. She then moved the High Court as her petition was not considered by prison officials.

In her petition, Sriharan claimed that around 3,700 life convicts, whose death sentences were commuted, were released by the Tamil Nadu government after 10 years of incarceration. “My request to the state for premature release under the 1994 scheme of premature release of life convicts was cleared by the council of ministers and on September 9, 2018, the council advised the governor to release me and other six life convicts in the case,” she had said. “But it has been over six months and the decision of the state is still yet to be implemented.”

The assassination

Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed in Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991, when an operative of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam named Gayatri set off an RDX-laden belt she wore under her belt. The LTTE was seeking revenge for the Indian government’s decision to send troops to Sri Lanka to help the island country fight the Tamil separatists.

In 1998, 26 people were sentenced to death for the conspiracy, but 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. Three others – Jayakumar, Robert Payas and Ravichandran – were sentenced to life imprisonment and the remaining 19 were freed. In 2000, Sriharan’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. In 2014, the top court commuted the death sentences of the other three as well, saying the Centre cannot unduly delay examining their mercy petitions.