Supreme Court sets free six life convicts including Nalini in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case

The court also noted that the Tamil Nadu government had recommended to the Governor in 2018 that the convicts be freed.
A 2019 file image: Nalini Sriharan, one of the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. (File Photo | PTI)
A 2019 file image: Nalini Sriharan, one of the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. (File Photo | PTI)

NEW DELHI: In a relief to the six convicts --- Nalini Sriharan, V Sriharan alias Murugan, RP Ravichandran, Jayakumar, Robert Payas, Santhan --- who were undergoing life imprisonment in the Rajiv Gandhi Assassination case, the Supreme Court on Friday ordered for their immediate premature release.

A bench of Justices B R Gavai and B V Nagarathna said the judgement of the top court in the case of A G Perarivalan, one of the convicts in the case, is equally applicable to all other convicts in the case and also noted that Tamil Nadu has recommended the release of all convicts in the case.

"In so far as the applicants before us are concerned, their death sentences were commuted to life on account of delay. 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.

"I am very happy... I am very thankful to each and everybody. The "last 32 years have been a struggle," Nalini Sriharan said, as quoted by TV reports.

The previous AIADMK government had in September 2018 recommended to the then TN Governor Banwarilal Purohit, the release of all seven convicts in the high-profile assassination case. It also informed the Supreme Court that it's decision to commute sentences is binding on the Governor.

On May 18, the Supreme Court had invoked its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, and ordered the release of convict Perarivalan.

The court also noted that they were found to have good conduct in jail and had acquired various degrees during their stay in jail. In the case of S Nalini, the bench noted that apart from her good conduct and acquiring various degrees, she being a woman was incarcerated for three decades.

The top court said, "Nalini has been behind bars for over three decades and her conduct has also been satisfactory. She has a PG diploma in Computer Application. Ravichandran's conduct has also been found to be satisfactory and he has undertaken various studies during his incarceration including a PG diploma in Arts. He has also collected various amounts for charity."

The top court’s order came following a plea from the convicts Nalini and Ravichandran challenging the Madras High Court's June 17 order dismissing their pleas for premature release and bail. The high court had stated that it did not have special powers that the Supreme Court has under Article 142 of the Constitution and hence, it cannot order their release, like the Supreme Court did for Perarivalan in May 2022.

Following Perarivalan's release, Ravichandran had sent a letter to Chief Minister MK Stalin seeking the release of the remaining six convicts, including him and mentioned that the Governor has kept the files of release without consideration for over three years.

The Tamil Nadu government, in response to the petitions of the two convicts, had said they both served over 30 years in jail and that it had approved the remitting of the sentences of all seven convicts over four years ago.

The Supreme Court, earlier this year, had taken into account Perarivalan's prolonged period of incarceration, his satisfactory conduct in jail as well as during parole, chronic ailments from his medical records, his educational qualifications acquired during incarceration and the pendency of his petition under Article 161 for two-and-a-half years after the recommendation of the state cabinet.

Meanwhile, Congress general secretary in-charge communications Jairam Ramesh said the decision of the Supreme Court to free the remaining killers of the former prime minister is "totally unacceptable and completely erroneous".

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in 2019 had said that while the assassination of his father Rajiv by suicide bombers of the LTTE still hurt, he forgave the perpetrators.

Earlier this year, Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin had tweeted a picture of him hugging Perarivalan in Chennai after his release.

Both Nalini and Ravichandran have been on ordinary leave (parole) from December 27, 2021 till date as sanctioned by the Tamil Nadu government under the Tamil Nadu Suspension of Sentence Rules, 1982 then and there based on their request.

Nalini has been incarcerated in special prison for women, Vellore for more than 30 years while Ravichandran is lodged in Madurai Central Prison and has undergone 29 years of actual imprisonment and 37 years of imprisonment, including remission.

Sriharan alias Murugan and Santhan (Photo | PTI)
Sriharan alias Murugan and Santhan (Photo | PTI)

Gandhi 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. The assassination was carried out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Sri Lankan armed separatist group. His killing was largely seen as a response to his move to send Indian forces to Sri Lanka in 1987 to disarm the Tamil rebels.

Gandhi became the country's youngest prime minister after his mother and predecessor Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.

In its May 1999 order, the top court had upheld the death sentence of four convicts Perarivalan, Sriharan alias Murugan, Santhan and Nalini.

However, in 2014, it commuted the death sentence of Perarivalan to life imprisonment along with those of Santhan and Murugan on grounds of delay in deciding their mercy petitions.

Nalini's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2001 on the consideration that she has a daughter.

The Tamil Nadu government had earlier favoured the premature release of Nalini and Ravichandran, saying its 2018 advice for remission of their life sentence is binding upon the governor.

(With inputs from PTI and Shruti Kakkar)

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express