Chennai, (Agencies): A day after the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of three assassins of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to life imprisonment, the Tamil Nadu government decided to release all seven convicts – including AG Perarivalan and Nalini – in the case.
The decision, which was taken at an emergent cabinet meeting, was announced in the state assembly by chief minister J Jayalalithaa.]
The cabinet decision will be forwarded to the Centre and it will wait for three days for it respond to the decision. If a response does not come within three days, the state will exercise its powers and release them.
At present all convicts – Santhan, Murugan, Perarivalan, Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran – are serving time in a Tamil Nadu jail.
Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2000 after Congress president Sonia Gandhi recommended her case on humanitarian grounds.
Co-convict Murugan is her husband and is also serving his sentence in the same prison.
Perarivalan topped a diploma examination and earned a gold medal in March 2013 in Desk Top Publishing Operator course, a vocational training programme, offered by the prison department in collaboration with the Mahatma Gandhi Community College and Tamil Nadu Open University.
All of them were members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Sri Lankan-based separatist movement, which was wiped out by Sri Lankan forces in 2009.
They had denied knowing anything about the plot to kill Gandhi as he was campaigning in May 1991 for a return to the prime ministerial office.
He was killed along with 17 others, including the female suicide assassin, as she greeted him with a garland of sandalwood beads and a bomb strapped to her chest during a rally in Sriperumbedur in Tamil Nadu.
Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader Vaiko extended his “heartiest congratulations and gratitude to the Tamil Nadu government”.
The apex court had on Tuesday rejected Centre’s contention that delay in deciding mercy plea of convicts V Sriharan alias Murugan, AG Perarivlan alias Arivu and T Suthendraraja alias Santhan did not result in agony.
The SC had cited the 11-year delay on the part of the Centre in deciding their mercy plea.
The three assassins have sought the commutation of their death sentence to life imprisonment on account of the inordinate delay of nearly 11 years in deciding their mercy petitions.
The verdict on their plea was reserved on Feb 4.
The Central government had opposed the plea saying that apex court’s Jan 21 verdict, holding inordinate, unreasonable and unexplained delay in deciding the mercy petitions by president was a ground for seeking commutation of death sentence into life imprisonment was not applicable in their case.
Attorney General GE Vahanvati had told the court that all through these 11 years, the three assassins were living a full life by holding music shows, art exhibitions and other recreational activities in the jail.
The government had said that during 11 years of their incarceration when their mercy petition was pending with the president, the three assassins suffered no agony, torture or dehumanising situation.
Senior counsel Yug Chaudhary who had appeared for the three assassins had argued that delay, per se, was torture.
Gandhi’s assassins were convicted by a TADA court in January 1998 and were awarded death sentence, which was confirmed by the apex court May 11, 1999.
In August 2012, their mercy petitions were rejected but as the date of their execution was fixed, the Madras high court intervened and the execution of the death sentenced was stayed.
Subsequently on a plea by Vaiko, the matter before the Madras high court was transferred to the Supreme Court.
(With PTI inputs)