The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the Centre on a plea by S Nalini, undergoing life imprisonment in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, challenging the law mandating Centre's approval for her release and that of six other convicts.
A bench headed by Chief Justice RM Lodha sought response from the Centre which had earlier contended that Tamil Nadu can't release the convicts without its approval and had derailed the state government's decision to release them.
In her petition, Nalini challenged Section 435(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code which mandates the state government to consult the Centre before premature release of a convict if the case was investigated by the CBI.
Nalini has been in jail for the last 23 years and undergoing life imprisonment after her death sentence was commuted. She was sentenced to death penalty by the trial court in the case on January 28, 1998.
Nalini's death sentence was commuted to life term by the Tamil Nadu Governor on April 24, 2000.
"Though 2200 life convicts who had put in less than 10 years of imprisonment were prematurely released by the Tamil Nadu Government during the last about 15 years, she was excluded from consideration for premature release only on the ground that her offence was investigated by the CBI i.e. Her case was covered by Section 435(1)(a) CrPC. The said section is unconstitutional," the petition said.
A day after the apex court had commuted the death sentences of convicts Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, the Jayalalithaa government on February 19 had proposed to remit the sentences of all seven lifers, including the three, and release them.
The decision of the state government to release the convicts was challenged by the Centre before the Supreme Court which had stayed the decision and referred the matter to a Constitution bench.
The court had on February 20 stayed the decision to release of three convicts--Murugan, Santhan and Arivu-- whose death sentence was commuted to life term by it on February 18 in the case, saying there had been procedural lapses on the part of the state government on the decision to release them. The apex court later on had also stayed release of convicts Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran in the case.
Santhan, Murugan and Arivu are currently lodged in the Central Prison, Vellore and they are in jail since 1991. The other four are also undergoing life sentence for their role in Gandhi's assassination on May 21, 1991 in Sriperumbudur.