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Supreme Court commutes death sentence of Rajiv Gandhi assassins, Centre to seek review

Wednesday, 19 February 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: New DelhiTHIRUVANANTHAPURAM | Agency: DNA

The Union home ministry is likely to file a review petition at the Supreme Court (SC) over its decision to commute the death sentence of three assassins of late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to life imprisonment.

The home ministry does not see merit in the SC argument that it called for commutation as the Centre sat on their mercy pleas for 11 years.

The ministry's defence is that the Centre cannot be blamed as it is the President who takes a call on mercy petitions. The President enjoys that liberty under Article 72 of the Constitution.

"The inordinate delay occurred because both the previous presidents -- Pratibha Devisingh Patil and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam were utterly reluctant to dispose of any mercy petition," said a senior home ministry official.

"Even K R Narayanan, the president prior to Kalam, was not in favour of clearing mercy petitions. These 15 years of logjam got cleared only when Pranab Mukherjee became the President," he said.

When the Centre decides to go in for a review petition, it will spell out all these reasons and also that the assassins were no ordinary killers but were waging a war against the state, and planned the whole conspiracy of blowing up the former PM.

Officials also fear that such acts of pardon will only make terrorists think India is a soft state.

The SC bench, headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam, had on Tuesday rejected the Centre's submission that there was no unreasonable delay in examining the mercy pleas.

However, Justice KT Thomas, who had presided over the three-member SC bench which upheld the death penalty to the three assassins by the trial court, welcomed the SC order.

"They are not responsible for the inordinate delay in executing the court order. Because of the delay, they have been behind bars for over 22 years So, they have served a jail term which exceeds the normal life imprisonment period. If they are now hanged, it will be double punishment. The law of the land does not permit it. Moreover, it will be a blatant violation of the convicts' human rights," Thomas, who retired from the apex court nearly a decade ago, told DNA.

Recently, the SC commuted the death sentence of forest brigand Veerappan's accomplices to life imprisonment on similar grounds, he said.

"Even before the order on Veerappan aides came out, I had raised the delay in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and demanded commutation,'' the former judge said.

"In my opinion, all cases where death sentences are delayed, should be commuted to life imprisonment,'' he said.

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