The Supreme Court Wednesday granted bail to A G Perarivalan who has been serving life sentence in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, taking note of his long incarceration of over 30 years and no history of complaint when out on parole.
A bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and B R Gavai directed the convict, whose death penalty was commuted into life term in 2014, to report to local police station near Chennai in the first week of every month and ordered that the additional conditions for release would be decided by a local court there.
“There is no dispute regarding the fact that the applicant has undergone the sentence of 32 years. We are informed by the counsel for the applicant that he was released on parole thrice earlier and there was no complaint about his conduct during his release,” the bench said in its order.
It also took note of the submission that the convict is on parole at present as well, and there is sufficient material produced about his conduct during his long incarceration.
The bench considered the fact that Perarivalan has acquired educational qualifications and has been suffering ill health during incarceration.
“Taking into account the fact that the applicant has already spent more than 30 years in prison, we are of the considered view that he is entitled to be released in on bail in spite of the vehement opposition of the ASG (additional solicitor general, who appeared for the Centre), subject to the final disposal of the SLPs (special leave petitions) here.”
The bench said the pleas have to be heard finally in view of the stand taken by the Centre that the state government does not have the power to entertain the mercy petition under Article 161 (power of the governor to grant remission) of the Constitution in view of the fact that the convict has already taken the benefit of remission earlier when his death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment.
The Supreme Court has been hearing pleas including the one in which Perarivalan sought suspension of his life sentence in the case till the MDMA probe is completed.
The CBI, in its affidavit of November 20, 2020, had told the Supreme Court that the Tamil Nadu Governor has to take a call on grant of remission to Perarivalan.
Later, the governor referred the mercy plea to the President of India saying he does not have the power to decide it.
The mercy plea has been pending since then and the Supreme Court said that till the time the legal issue over the power to grant remission is decided, it would grant the bail to the convict.
The CBI had said Perarivalan was not the subject matter of further investigation carried out by the CBI-led Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) which is conducting a probe on the aspect of larger conspiracy as per the mandate of the Jain Commission report.
The Jain commission of inquiry in the assassination of the former prime minister has recommended a probe into larger conspiracy by MDMA and it required monitoring /tracking of suspects who were on the run and the role of Sri Lankan and Indian nationals in the case.
The state government had earlier told the Supreme Court that the Cabinet had already passed a resolution on September 9, 2018 and recommended to the Governor for the premature release of all seven convicts in the case.
MDMA was set up in 1998 on the recommendations of the Justice M C Jain Commission of Inquiry which had probed the conspiracy aspect of Gandhi’s assassination.
Gandhi was assassinated on the night of May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber, identified as Dhanu, at a poll rally.
Fourteen others, including Dhanu herself, were also killed. Gandhi’s assassination was probably the first case in the country of suicide bombing which had claimed the life of a high-profile leader.
In its May 1999 order, the Supreme Court had upheld the death sentence of four convicts — Perarivalan, Murugan, Santham and Nalini.
In April 2000, the Tamil Nadu Governor had commuted the death sentence of Nalini on the basis of the state government’s recommendation and an appeal by former Congress president and Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi.
On February 18, 2014, the Supreme Court had commuted the death sentence of Perarivalan to life imprisonment, along with that of two other prisoners — Santhan and Murugan — on the grounds of an 11-year delay in deciding their mercy pleas by the Centre.