The Supreme Court last week invoked its extraordinary powers under Article 142 to free A G Perarivalan, one of the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The court’s order not only clarified the role and powers of the state Governor but also faulted the then Tamil Nadu Governor for referring a 2018 recommendation from the state Cabinet to release the seven convicts in the case to the President early in 2021. Perarivalan was convicted in 1998 and sentenced to death.
In 1999, the SC upheld the sentence. However, in 2014, the apex court commuted the sentence to life. The release of the convicts has been an emotive issue among some sections of society and the state government has explored various means to free them. Subsequently, in 2018, the Cabinet recommended the Governor release them under Article 161. However, the Governor failed to respond. Instead, when the matter came to court, it was learnt that the Governor had referred the matter to the President.
In its order, the Supreme Court said the Governor’s action to refer the matter to the President was without any backing in the Constitution, pointing out that the Cabinet’s advice is binding with regard to the exercise of powers under Article 161. It also said that non-exercise of the power under the article or inexplicable delay would be subject to judicial review (although it fails to provide a time frame for this).
In reiterating the role and responsibility of the Governor and faulting the action to refer the matter to the President in what could be read as an effort to put off fulfilling his duty, the court has sounded a warning against the Governor’s attempts to thwart the will of the people by simply delaying acceding to the requests and advice of the elected government. TN has already claimed that several legislations are pending with the Governor, awaiting his assent. One of the Bills, to exempt the state from NEET, was only recently forwarded to the Centre after months of delay. The SC verdict should come as a reminder to Governors, especially those seeking to act on behalf of the Centre, that they are “but a shorthand expression for the state government”.