CHENNAI: The AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu on Sunday recommended to Governor Banwarilal Purohit the release of all seven life convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, a move hailed by most political parties in the state barring the Congress.
A resolution to this effect was adopted by the state cabinet which met here under Chief Minister K Palaniswami’s leadership, Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar told reporters, adding the Governor has to accept the decision by virtue of being the executive head of the state.
The cabinet decided to release the convicts V Sriharan alias Murugan, T Suthanthiraraja alias Santhan, A G Perarivalan alias Arivu, Jayakumar, Robert Payas and Nalini, under Article 161 of the Constitution, which relates to the power of the Governor to grant pardons and to suspend, remit and commute sentences in certain cases.
The seven are serving life sentence for their role in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi by an LTTE suicide bomber on May 21, 1991 in nearby Sriperumpudur.
When pointed to the Centre’s opposition to their release and whether Purohit can take a decision without consulting it, Jayakumar shot back saying there was no need for the Governor to take the opinion of the Union government.
“He has to accept and will accept,” the cabinet decision since it came under Article 161 of the Constitution, he said replying to a question.
Opposition parties barring the Congress welcomed the move and urged the Governor to ensure the immediate
release of the convicts, who have been in prison for over 25 years.
Tamil Nadu Congress committee president Su Thirunavukarasar said their release will set “a wrong precedent”.
The government’s move comes days after the Supreme Court asked the Governor to consider the mercy petition of Perarivalan seeking remission or pardon under Article 161 of the Constitution and disposed of the Centre’s petition opposing the state’s 2014 decision for the convicts’ release.
Though the apex court had asked the Governor to consider the plea of Perarivalan, the government decided to recommend setting free all others also as they too had petitioned his (Governor’s) office as well the government seeking premature release, Jayakumar said.
The cabinet resolution will be sent to the Governor “immediately, today itself” he said, adding the further course of action will be taken without any delay.
The fact that the cabinet met on a Sunday, just days after the apex court directive, shows the importance of the matter, the senior minister said.
This is the second time the state cabinet has decided to set free all the seven convicts.
Earlier, the then Jayalalithaa cabinet had in February, 2014 took the decision to release them, but it was stayed by the apex court on a petition by the Centre.
Asked if the Governor will respond favourably to the cabinet’s decision, Jayakumar said “definitely”.
“The Governor has to accept the recommendation of the ministers. There is nothing to decline. He represents the state. Even a government order is issued under the Governor’s name. He is the executive of the state. The decision taken by the state government will be implemented, executed… by the Governor,” he said.
When asked about the role of the seven convicts in the assassination of Gandhi, Jayakumar said it was a past, adding the focus should be on the present and claimed the people of the state wanted them to be released.
He recalled the earlier cabinet resolution under then chief minister J Jayalalithaa in 2014 on the release of the seven convicts, saying “it was reflective of the people’s sentiments”.
The Centre should have heeded that and aided in the release of them at that time itself, he said and added the latest apex court directive on Perarivalan “strengthened” Jayalalithaa’s decision.
Originally, the trial court here had sentenced 26 accused to death in 1998 and a year later, the apex court had upheld the death sentence of four – Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini – commuted the death sentence of three others to life and set free the others.