The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday restrained all states from exercising power of remission for releasing convicts from jail who are serving life sentence and sought their response whether the Centre's nod was needed for the purpose in cases prosecuted by central agencies like CBI.
A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice RM Lodha issued notices to all state government asking them to file their response by July 18 so that the matter can be taken up for hearing on July 22. "Meanwhile, state governments are restrained from exercising power of remission for releasing life convicts till the next date of hearing," the bench, also comprising justices JS Khehar, J Chelameswar, AK Sikri and Rohinton Nariman said in an interim order.
The bench made it clear that there was need for a categorical response "whether in CBI cases, states have any role on the question of remission to life convicts".
The issue of remission was referred to the Constitution Bench after the Centre had challenged the Tamil Nadu government's decision to remit the sentences of all seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
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.
When the matter came for hearing along with other similarly situated convicts including the Red Fort attack case, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar submitted that Tamil Nadu Government has no power to exercise jurisdiction in the cases investigated and prosecuted by the central probe agencies like CBI. "Today Tamil Nadu has exercised power (of remission). Tomorrow other states would also," he submitted while reading out the April 25 order of the apex court when the matter was referred to the Constitution Bench by framing the issues that need to be deliberated.
The Solicitor General said in the cases filed by the CBI or other central agencies, the Central Government is the appropriate authority to take such calls. He said while considering the issue of remission, there was also a need to look into the rights of the victims.
The bench also made it clear that it would not go beyond the questions which were framed in the reference.
However, during the brief hearing, the bench also posed a question to the Centre that in the case in hand how the writ petition was maintainable. "How is the writ petition maintainable. You have to file a written submission on the question of maintainability? the bench said.
The Jayalalithaa government had on February 19 decided to set free all the seven convicts who have been in jail for 23 years for their role in Rajiv Gandhi's assassination on May 21, 1991 in Sriperumbudur. The apex court had referred the case to the Constitution 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 ramifications. "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.
It had said that the Constitution bench will also decide whether the sentence of a prisoner, whose death penalty has been commuted to life, can be remitted by government. 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.