Close on the heels of Tamilnadu Cabinet passing a resolution favouring the release of all seven life convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and sending it to the Raj Bhavan, all eyes are on Governor Banwarilal Purohit with reports suggesting that he has commenced consultation with legal experts.
A meeting of the Tamil Nadu Cabinet, chaired by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, on Sunday evening recommended to Purohit that all seven life convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case be released under Article 161 of the Constitution.
The decision followed the Supreme Court’s observation last week that the Governor shall be at liberty to decide on the remission application of Perarivalan, one of the convicts, “as deemed fit.”
The convicts — Nalini, T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan, Sriharan alias Murugan (Nalini’s husband), A.G. Perarivalan alias Arivu, Robert Payas, S. Jayakumar alias Jayakumaran, and Ravichandran alias Ravi — have been in jail for over 27 years. Santhan, Murugan, Payas and Jayakumar are Sri Lankan Tamils.
Tamil Nadu fisheries minister D Jayakumar’s comment after the cabinet meeting that recommended the release of seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, was significant. On the face of it, he was stating the constitutional position. But without much subtlety, Jayakumar was also reminding Governor Banwarilal Purohit that he has no other option.
Under Article 161 of the Constitution, the President of India and the governors of states have been given the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute sentences.
The question is whether the power is vested entirely in the president and the governor allowing him to disagree with a recommendation made by the government, or whether he simply has to sign on the dotted line.
In 2014, when then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa attempted to release the seven convicts, the Centre opposed saying the state can’t release them without its consent as they were being investigated by a national agency.
Governments at the centre have opposed their release. On the mercy petition of Perarivalan, who claimed that the CBI had overlooked key evidence in his case, the home ministry told the Supreme Court last month that Rajiv Gandhi’s killers cannot be released.