SC allows states to release life convicts – but with riders

New Delhi, July 23 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed state governments to grant remission and set free life term convicts whose cases have not been investigated by the CBI or those not probed under central laws.

A constitution bench of Chief Justice H.L. Dattu, Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose, and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre, also said state governments cannot grant remission in cases where life sentence means the entire life or where the term has been specified like 20 years or 25 years and in rape and murder cases as it modified its July 9, 2014 interim order restraining state governments from releasing convicts upon grant of remission.

The court also said the relaxation would not be applicable in respect of the seven convicts in the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

It said the states can grant remission where no application was preferred (by the accused) or considered suo moto by the state earlier.

“We also permit the president under article 72 and the governor under article 161 to exercise their constitutional powers to grant remission or clemency in such cases,” the court said in its interim order.

By modifying its earlier order, the court disposed of a batch of application by Karnataka, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal seeking lifting of the July 9, 2014 order.

The court’s order came in the course of the hearing of a reference by three judge bench on the question “whether once power of remission under article 72 or 161 or by this court exercising the constitutional power under article 32 is exercised, is there any scope for further consideration for remission by the executive”.

The constitution bench was further asked to examine whether there could be a special category wherein, after death penalty has been commuted to life imprisonment, such a convict is put beyond the applicability of remission and would remain behind the bar in excess of life term of 14 years.

The question was rooted in the conflicting positions taken by the central and the Tamil Nadu governments on whether after the commutation of death sentence into life imprisonment, could Rajiv Gandhi assassins or similarly-placed convicts be granted remission and consequently released.

Meanwhile, senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for Tamil Nadu, told the court that it had the power to grant remission of sentence to the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and could not give up its power. He noted that these convicts were in jail for last 24 years.

During the course of the hearing, the court asked the Solicitor General as to how central government could take away the powers of the state government for granting remission in the changed circumstance after the death sentence of three conspirators – V. Sriharan alias Murugan, A.G. Perarivalan alias Arivu and T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan – was commuted to life terms.

The apex court had on February 18, 2014 verdict commuted the death sentences on the grounds of inordinate delay of 11 years in deciding their mercy petitions by the president.

The day after, the Tamil Nadu government on February 19 decided to grant remission and release all the seven convicts.

Besides Sriharan, Perarivalan and Suthendraraja, the other four who were sought to be released included Jayakumar, Nalini and Ravichandran.

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