The Centre today told the Madras High Court that two life convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case were not entitled for 'premature release' in view of the Supreme Court's interpretation that a "life sentence means entire life of a person".
The convicts, Robert Payas and Jayakumar, had filed habeas corpus petitions for being included in the list of 180 accused proposed for premature release on Republic Day eve.
When the petitions came up for hearing on August 9, a division bench of Justice A Selvam and Justice Pon Kalaiyarasan directed the Union government to file its reply considering "the long pendency of the matter".
In its counter, the Union home ministry informed the high court that in view of the interpretation by the apex court, "life sentence means entire life of a person" and thus the petitioners cannot seek relief.
The counter referred to the Tamil Nadu government's proposal to remit the life sentences and release of seven convicts, including the two involved in the Rajiv Gandhi case. It said the Union government had challenged the decision in the apex court.
The Supreme Court had referred the matter to a five member constitutional bench for taking a final call on issues including the suo motu exercise of power of remission of sentences.
The counter affidavit said the apex court had on December 2, 2015 categorically held that in this matter, the Union government was the appropriate authority.
Subsequently when the state government sought its views on release of the seven convicts, the Centre had said in view of the apex court's order, it would not be appropriate for the Union government to act upon the proposal.
The counter further stated that the Union home ministry was the appropriate authority to decide the release of the convicts and therefore the prison rules referred by the petitioners were not relevant to the case.
It also said in view of the interpretation of the apex court, the petitioners cannot seek relief, and sought the petition's dismissal.
The matter is listed for hearing on August 16.
A habeas corpus plea is a petition filed to ensure that a person under arrest is brought before a court which determines whether the detention is legal.
Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a suicide bomber at nearby Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991 and seven persons---Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan, Nalini, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran---were convicted in the case.
Robert Payas and Jayakumar were sentenced to death for their role in the assassination of the former prime minister, but the sentence was later commuted to life by the Supreme Court in 1999.
Nalini was first awarded death sentence, which was confirmed by the Supreme Court and subsequently the Tamil Nadu government under Article 161 of the Constitution commuted her sentence to life on April 24, 2000.
In February 2014, the apex court had commuted the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan following a delay in deciding on their mercy plea.
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