SC Orders Premature Release of All Convicts in Rajiv Gandhi Assassination Case

A bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and B.V. Nagarathna passed the order after the top court on May 17 granted relief to A.G. Perarivalan, another convict in the case.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the premature release of all those who were convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and are serving a life sentence.

The court ordered the release of six convicts, Nalini Sriharan, Robert Pais, R.P. Ravichandran, Suthenthira Raja alias Santhan, Sriharan alias Murugan and Jaikumar. “The appellants are directed to be set at liberty if not required in any other matter,” the bench ordered, according to LiveLaw.

A bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and B.V. Nagarathna passed the order after the top court on May 17 granted relief to A.G. Perarivalan, another convict in the case, saying the matter is applicable for all the other convicts too.

Invoking its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution, the top court had on May 18 ordered the release of Perarivalan, who had served over 30 years in jail.

After the Supreme Court ordered the release of Perarivalan, Nalini and Ravichandran had moved the Madras high court, seeking similar relief. But the high court dismissed the petition, observing that it lacks the special powers enjoyed by the Supreme Court under Article 142. They then moved the top court.

Rajiv Gandhi, a former prime minister, was assassinated on the night of May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber, identified as Dhanu, at a poll rally.

According to LiveLaw, the top court noted that the Tamil Nadu government has recommended the release of all convicts, which has not been acted upon by the governor. The bench also noted that the convicts have spent over three decades in prison and that their conduct in the prison was satisfactory.

According to the report, the court noted that the convicts were also suffering from various ailments, had obtained degrees or undertaken study programmes while in jail. It said:

“In the case of Robert Pais, it is seen that his conduct is satisfactory and that he is suffering from various illness, he has obtained various degrees.
In the case of Jaikumar also, his conduct is found satisfactory. He also has taken various studies
In the case of Suthenthira Raja, he is also suffering from various ailments. He has written various articles which have not only been published but have also received awards.
In so far as Ravichandran is concerned, his conduct has also been found to be satisfactory and has undertaken various studies. He has also done charitable purposes.
As far as Nalini is concerned, she is a woman and has been incarcerated for a period of more than 3 decades and her conduct also is found satisfactory. She has also undertaken various studies
In so far as Sriharan is concerned, his conduct is also found satisfactory and he has also undertaken various studies”.

In 1998, 25 persons were sentenced to death by a TADA Court for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. But the Supreme Court acquitted 19 convicts and upheld the death sentences of four convicts (Perarivalan, Sriharan, Santhan and Nalini), while sentencing three others to life imprisonment.

Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2000 by the Tamil Nadu government, at the intervention of Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv’s widow following Nalini giving birth to a baby girl in jail. In 2014, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of Perarivalan, Sriharan and Santhan to life imprisonment.