Even though the Centre recently assured the Supreme Court that Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit will soon take a call on the release of AG Perarivalan, convicted in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Governor’s office has now left the decision to the President.
“The proposal received by the central government will be processed in accordance with law,” the Centre told the Supreme Court in an affidavit on Thursday (February 4).
On January 22, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, told the Supreme Court that Purohit will take a decision on the release of all the four convicted for Gandhi’s assassination within “three to four days”.
The decision to release the convicts, initiated by the Tamil Nadu government in 2018, has been pending with the governor ever since.
While hearing Perarivalan’s plea for release on January 22, the Supreme Court had called the delay by the governor “extraordinary”.
Three days later, the Governor’s office sent a letter to the Centre, designating President Ram Nath Kovind as the “appropriate competent authority” to sign off the pardon.
The issue was also mentioned by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami in the Assembly on Thursday, who said he has discussed the matter with the governor on January 29 and expects him “to take a good decision in the matter”.
Experts in the field have called the governor’s passing of buck as unheard of and even “illegal”.
“Why is he doing that…even after the state Cabinet took a decision long ago? It is not the President but the Governor who should take a decision in this regard. It is dereliction on the part of the governor…Not taking a decision for 28 months and now what he did is not in consonance with the spirit of the Constitution,” former justice KT Thomas told Indian Express.
Calling the governor’s action “illegal”, Justice (retired) K Chandru of the Madras High Court, said while he had two options – release or refuse to release – earlier, now he has resorted to a third option, which in turn is “not an option at all”.
“When the Supreme Court says you have to take a decision, where is the question of sending it to the President?” he said.
In May 1999, seven were convicted for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. While three were convicted for life, four of them – Nalini Sriharan, Perarivalan, and Sri Lankans Murugan and Santhan – were sentenced to death. However, Nalini’s sentence was commuted to life in 2000 while the same for the three others was effected in 2014.
Even though the Governor didn’t consider a pardon request moved by Perarivalan in 2015, the Supreme Court in a 2018 order said that the Governor can decide on the pardon. Following this, the AIADMK government had recommended pardon of the seven convicts.