NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed State governments to exercise their powers of remission to release life convicts with a rider that this would not apply to cases probed by Central agencies like the CBI and for those incarcerated under central laws such as TADA.
A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu, made it clear that this interim order would not be applicable in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case in which the Centre’s plea against the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to grant remission for release of the seven life convicts was under consideration.
“We make it clear that our order is not applicable in this case (Rajiv Gandhi assassination case). Our interim order is subject to the final order we pass in the matter,” the Bench said.
Lifting its stay, the Apex Court said that relaxation would also not apply to cases where the convict had been awarded life term in sexual offence cases of rape and murder. The court modified its July 9, 2014 order by which it had restrained all States from exercising power of remission for releasing life convicts from jail in the wake of the controversy triggered by the Tamil Nadu Government decision to grant remission for release of three such convicts, V Sriharan alias Murugan, Santhan and Arivu whose death sentence in the Rajiv Gandhi case was commuted to life term by it on February 18, 2014.
The court had then stayed the Tamil Nadu government’s February 19 decision to release them along with four other convicts Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran saying there were procedural lapses on the part of the State.
However, senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi appearing for TN, told the court that the State had the power to grant remission of sentence to the Rajiv case convicts and could not give up its power. They were in jail for the past 24 years, he added.
During the course of the hearing, the court asked the Solicitor General as to how the Central Government could take away the powers of the State government for granting remission in the changed circumstance after the death sentence of three conspirators - V Sriharan alias Murugan, A G Perarivalan alias Arivu and T Suthendraraja alias Santhan - was commuted to life term.
The court, in its interim order, restored the States’ power of remission under sections 432, 433 of CrPC to release life convicts, which may be used for considering relief for those life convicts who have undergone prison term of 14 or more years.
“We also permit the President under Article 72 and the Governor under Article 161 to exercise their constitutional powers to grant remission or clemency in such cases,” the court said.
The court laid down various conditions for States and said such powers cannot be exercised in cases in which prison terms are specified to continue till the end of the lives, and remission cannot be considered in cases where it is clearly stated that a life convict has to serve in jail for a specified period like 20 to 25 years. The court also made it clear that State’s power of remission can be exercised in cases where investigation was not conducted by any central probe agency like the CBI.
The bench said its interim order would apply where no application for commutation is preferred or considered suo motu by the State government.
The bench is presently considering the issue of whether the Centre’s nod was needed in granting remission in cases investigated and prosecuted by central agencies and deciding on various aspect whether the sentence of a prisoner, whose death penalty has been commuted to life, can be remitted by government, whether life imprisonment meant jail term for rest of the life or a convict has a right to claim remission and whether a special category of sentence may be made for cases where death penalty might be substituted by the punishment of imprisonment for life.
■ The interim order will not apply to cases probed by central agencies like CBI and for those incarcerated under central laws such as TADA
■ Relaxation will also not apply where the convict has been awarded life term in sexual offence cases of rape and murder
■ States’ power of remission was restored under sections 432, 433 of CrPC to release life convicts may be used for considering relief for those life convicts who have undergone prison term of 14 or more years