Indian Supreme Court Orders Release of the remaining six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case- Nalini Sriharan, Santhan alias Raviraj, Murugan, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran alias Ravi. Justices B R Gavai and B V Nagarathna ordered that “the appellants are directed to be set at liberty if not required in any other matter”.

by Ananthakrishnan G

THE SUPREME COURT Friday set free all the six convicts serving life terms for the assassination in 1991 of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu, extending to them the benefit of its order releasing co-convict A G Perarivalan nearly six months ago.

Hearing pleas by the six convicts, a bench of Justices B R Gavai and B V Nagarathna noted that the death sentence of the applicants had been commuted to life terms earlier on account of delays. “We direct that all the appellants are deemed to have served their sentence. The applicants are thus directed to be released unless required in any other case,” the bench said.

Those who have been allowed premature release are Nalini Sriharan, T Suthendraraja alias Santhan, V Sriharan alias Murugan, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran alias Ravi.

On May 18, the apex court had ordered the release of Perarivalan, exercising its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution. On Friday, the bench said the same order will apply to the six other accused as well.

The bench noted that the six had spent over three decades in jail in the case and said that their conduct was satisfactory in this period during which they had pursued studies as well. On Nalini, the court took into account that she was a woman.

According to the prosecution’s case, as recorded in court documents, Nalini had taken the suicide bomber Dhanu to a shop for stitching the salwar kameez that was used for concealing the IED for the assassination. Fifteen others, including nine policemen, were also killed in the attack and 43 others injured.

Following the assassination during a poll rally on the night of May 21, 1991, the investigation in the case led to the Sri Lankan Tamil separatist outfit LTTE.

The court records show that Nalini, Murugan and the others had attended public meetings of Rajiv and then AIADMK chief, the late J Jayalalithaa, at the Marina beach in Chennai and conducted a dry run by securing access to garland the then Prime Minister V P Singh at another event.

They show that Nalini and Sivarasan, who later committed suicide, took Dhanu and co-accused Subha and Haribabu to the meeting venue in Sriperumbudur for the suicide attack. Nalini, the records show, provided cover to Dhanu and Subha when Rajiv arrived at the scene.
After the blast killed Dhanu and Haribabu, Nalini, Sivarasan and Subha fled the scene. Nalini and Murugan then accompanied Sivarasan and Subha to Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh. Nalini also caused the disappearance of evidence, the records show.

The documents show that Robert Payas and Jayakumar, who are Sri Lankan nationals, came to India as refugees in September 1990 as part of the conspiracy. They took houses on rent in Porur and Kodungaiyur in Chennai to provide safe houses for the co-conspirators including Sivarasan.

Ravi arrived in India with Sivarasan in December 1990. He then went to Jaffna, underwent arms training in an LTTE camp, and enlisted more people in Tamil Nadu for the outfit, the documents show. Santhan rendered assistance to the accused Sivarasan, according to the documents.

In 2018, the then AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu recommended the names of all the seven convicts, including Perarivalan, for premature release. But the decision remained pending before the state’s Governor following which Perarivalan approached the Supreme Court.

In 2018, the then AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu recommended the names of all the seven convicts, including Perarivalan, for premature release. But the decision remained pending before the state’s Governor following which Perarivalan approached the Supreme Court.

In February 2021, the Centre told the Supreme Court that the Governor had “considered all the facts on record and that after perusal of the relevant documents, recorded that the Hon’ble President of India is the appropriate competent authority to deal with the…request for remittance”.
But while deciding on Perarivalan’s plea, the Supreme Court disapproved of the Governor sending the state government’s recommendation to the President.

It said at the time that “no provision under the Constitution has been pointed out to us nor any satisfactory response tendered as to the source of the Governor’s power to refer a recommendation made by the State Cabinet to the President of India”. It also said the Governor’s “action is contrary to the Constitutional scheme”.

The court had also refused to accept the Centre’s argument that as laid down by the Supreme Court in a 2014 decision (Union of India vs Sriharan), the “appropriate government” to decide on remission of sentence in matters to which the executive power of the Union extends is the Union Government. This is “incorrect”, the bench had said.

It had underlined that while both the state and Centre had the power to make laws, the Union Government’s power will take precedence only if “executive power had been expressly conferred on the Union under the Constitution or the law made by the Parliament, failing which the executive power of the State remained intact”.

Following Perarivalan’s release, Nalini and Ravichandran approached the Madras High Court, seeking release without waiting for the Governor’s approval. But the High Court dismissed their petitions, saying the Supreme Court had ordered their release in exercise of its power under Article 142 which was not vested with High Courts. The convicts then moved the Supreme Court.

Following investigations in the case, a designated court dealing with cases under the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987, convicted 26 persons in connection with the assassination and sentenced them to death in 1998.

On appeal, the Supreme Court in 1999 acquitted 19 convicts of some of the charges and ordered their immediate release as they had already served the terms applicable to them. However, it confirmed the death sentence of Nalini, Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan and altered the death sentence of Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran to life imprisonment.

In 2000, Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment considering her mercy plea. In 2014, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan to life terms.

Courtesy:The Indian Express