All the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, whose sentences were remitted by the Tamil Nadu government, will remain in jail with the Supreme Court today continuing its interim stay order and referring the remission issue to a Constitution bench.
A bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam said that the petition filed by the Centre, challenging the Tamil Nadu government's decision to remit their sentences, will be decided by the Constitution bench and framed seven questions to be decided by it. The court had on February 20 stayed the state government's decision to release three convicts--Murugan, Santhan and Arivu-- whose death sentence was commuted to life term by it on February 18 in the case. It had later on also stayed release of four other convicts Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran in the case, saying there were procedural lapses on the part of the state government.
The Jayalalithaa government had on February 19 decided to set free all the seven convicts who have in jail for 23 years. Santhan, Murugan and Arivu are currently lodged in the Central Prison, Vellore. The other four are also undergoing life sentence for their role in Gandhi's assassination on May 21, 1991 in Sriperumbudur. On his last working day as CJI, Justice Sathasivam passed the verdict and referred the case to a larger bench, saying this issue has been raised for the first time before the court and an authoritative pronouncement is required on the matter which could have wide ramification.
"The issue of such a nature has been raised for the first time in this Court, which has wide ramification in determining the scope of application of power of remission by the executives, both the Centre and the State. "Accordingly, we refer this matter to the Constitution Bench to decide the issue pertaining to whether once power of remission under Article 72(by the President) or 161 (by Governor)or by this Court exercising Constitutional power under Article 32 is exercised, is there any scope for further consideration for remission by the executive," it said.
The apex court said that the Constitution bench, which is to take up the matter within three months, will also decide whether the sentence of a prisoner, whose death penalty has been commuted to life, can be remitted by government.
"All the issues raised in the given case are of utmost critical concern for the whole of the country, as the decision on these issues will determine the procedure for awarding sentences in the criminal justice system. Accordingly, we direct to list the case before the Constitution Bench as early as possible preferably within a period of three months," the bench said.The Constitution bench will also decide whether life imprisonment meant jail term for rest of the life or a convict has a right to claim remission. It will also decide whether a special category of sentence may be made for cases where death penalty might be substituted by the punishment of imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term in excess of fourteen years and to put that category beyond application of remission.
It will also decide whether the Union or the State has primacy over the subject matter enlisted in concurrent list of Seventh Schedule of the Constitution for exercise of power of remission. The Centre had opposed the decision taken by Tamil Nadu government on remission of sentence, saying that the state has no power of take such decision and the remission in the present case is illegal and without jurisdiction.