Supreme Court Law Insider

Aastha Thakur

Published on: 26 September 2022 at 23:25 IST

The Supreme Court gave notice on the SLP for early release that Nalini Srihar and R.P. Ravichandran, both convicted of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, had submitted. The appeals were chosen after the Madras High Court on June 17 rejected the life-sentenced inmates’ petitions. The apex court have directed the State of Tamil Nadu and the Union of India to submit response.

A special court established under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1985, found the petitioners responsible for the murder of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. The TADA Court executed Nalini together with 25 other defendants in 1998.

When the case reached the Supreme Court, a Bench presided over by Justice K.T. Thomas exonerated 19 defendants while upholding the death sentences of four of them, including Nalini. Three further people received life sentences. There was Ravichandran among them.

The Tamil Nadu government modified Nalini’s death sentence to life in prison in 2000. The governor declined to approve the release of the seven prisoners in 2018, despite the AIADMK Cabinet’s recommendation.

The petitioners then requested permission from the Madras High Court to be released, citing the Supreme Court’s earlier this year decision to use its exceptional powers under Article 142 to free another prisoner, A.G. Perarivalan.

A Division Bench of the High Court, however, dismissed the applications brought by Nalini and Ravichandran, stating that it lacked the extraordinary authority granted to the Supreme Court by Article 142 of the Constitution.

The Bench comprising of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice N. Mala, refused to order the release of the convicts without the assent of the Governor. The order stated –

“The view taken aforesaid is substantiated from the fact that even the Apex Court in the case of A.G. Perarivalan, supra, has not ordered for release of the accused holding that without the signature of the Governor to accept the resolution, a direction can be given by the High Court. Rather, to order for release, the Apex Court invoked its power under Article 142 of the Constitution of India.”

The power under Article 142 of the Constitution of India can be exercised only by the Apex Court and no such power exists with the High Court. The aforesaid goes to the root of the case to hold that without the signature of the Governor to authorise the resolution, this court cannot pass an order directing the State Government to release the accused, otherwise the direction therein would not only offend Article 161 of the Constitution of India, but also Article 163 of the Constitution of India.”

The petitioners have brought a case to the Supreme Court challenging this judgement. On October 14, the Division Bench, which is composed of Justices BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna, will discuss the situation.

The petitioners were discharged during the COVID-19 epidemic and are presently free on parole.

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