A.G. Perarivalan (left) after his release. Image Credit: Twitter

New Delhi: India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of A.G. Perarivalan, a life term convict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

A bench headed by Justice L. Nageswara Rao invoked the power under Article 142 to release Perarivalan.

Article 142 of the Constitution allows the Supreme Court to pass any order necessary to do complete justice in any case or matter pending before it.

The case
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on the night of May 21 1991 at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber, identified as Dhanu, at a poll rally.
Nineteen-year-old, at the time of the assassination, Perarivalan was accused of buying the two 9-volt batteries for Sivarasan, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) man who masterminded the assassination.
The batteries were used in the bomb to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. On 18 February 2014, the apex court commuted the death sentence of Perarivalan to life imprisonment on grounds of an 11-year delay in deciding the mercy plea by the Centre.

The bench noted that his mercy plea kept shuttling between the Governor and the President. On May 11, the Supreme Court reserved its verdict on the plea of Perarivalan, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, seeking premature release from jail after spending nearly 30 years in prison.

It had said that the Tamil Nadu Governor was bound by the aid and advice given by the Tamil Nadu Council of Ministers under Article 161 of the Constitution, on the release of AG Perarivalan.

Perarivalan had sought a premature release from jail based on the recommendation made by the Tamil Nadu government in September 2018.

The apex court in its judgement held that the decision of the Governor to refer the mercy plea of Perarivalan to the President of India has no constitutional backing.

The top court, while releasing Perarivalan, took into consideration his good conduct in jail, medical condition, educational qualifications (he acquired while in custody) and the pendency of his mercy plea with the Tamil Nadu Governor.

It also said that the inordinate delay in deciding Perarivalan’s early release plea by the Governor under Article 161 also warranted his release.

During the hearing, the bench disagreed with the federal government’s suggestion that it (court) should wait till the President’s decision on Perarivalan’s mercy plea.

The bench had said: “We will pass the order to release him from jail as you are not ready to argue the case on merits. We cannot shut our eyes to something that is happening against the Constitution and will have to go by the Bible which is the Constitution. There is nobody above law. There are certain powers conferred to dignitaries, but the working of the Constitution should not come to a grinding halt.”

Strong exception

The apex court took a strong exception to the action of Tamil Nadu Governor for sitting of the Cabinet’s release recommendation for more than three and half years and then forwarding it to the President.

On March 9, the apex court granted bail to Perarivalan while taking into consideration his conduct, ill health and the fact that he has spent more than 30 years in prison. The bench had noted that there were no complaints about his conduct when he was released thrice before on parole.

The bench had taken into note that Governor is yet to decide on Perarivalan’s plea seeking release from prison. The apex court had granted bail to Perarivalan despite the Centre opposing it vehemently.

After considering all the facts on record and relevant documents, the Central government had earlier apprised the apex court that the Tamil Nadu Governor said that the President of India is the “appropriate competent authority” to deal with the pardon plea of Perarivalan.

Perarivalan, his father Kuildasan, mother Arputhammal, sister Anbumani and others, living in Jolarpettai of Tamil Nadu’s Tirupathur district, turned emotional on hearing the apex court’s order.

Speaking to reporters, Perarivalan said: “For the past 31 years, only the legal fight was in our minds. I have been released only today. I have to breathe now. I will discuss with my family about my future.”

Thanking lawyers, who had appeared for him, Perarivalan said he had spent a major part of his life in legal fights. To a question, he said it will be an uphill task if a common man gets caught in such a case.

He said he is opposed to death penalty. “My 30 years in prison is the message,” he said.