The Supreme Court today commuted the death sentence of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan the three men convicted of killing former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to life imprisonment, rejecting the government’s view that an 11-year delay in deciding their mercy petition was not agony for them.
The convicts, Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan, can also be released if the Tamil Nadu government grants them remission, the court ruled. The decision will be a political one ahead of the national election, due in May.
While commuting death sentence, the apex court cited the 11 years delay on the part of the Centre in deciding their mercy plea.
“We implore the government to render advice in reasonable time to the President for taking a decision on mercy pleas,” the Supreme Court bench observed, adding that, “We are confident that the mercy plea can be decided much faster than what is being done now.”
The court had held that prolonging execution of capital sentence has a “dehumanizing effect” on condemned prisoners who have to face the “agony” of waiting for years under the shadow of death during the pendency of their mercy plea.
The verdict follows the Supreme Court’s January 21 order commuting the death sentences of 15 convicts, announcing that “inordinate and inexplicable” delays in carrying out executions were grounds for reducing their original punishment.
Santhan, Perarivalan and Murugan were convicted in 1998 for Mr Gandhi’s assassination in 1991. Their mercy petition was sent to the President of India, the last stage in the process of appeals, in 2000 and was rejected 11 years later. Their hanging was stayed in 2011 on the orders of the Madras High Court.
Murugan’s wife Nalini was also sentenced to death but it was commuted to life on the intervention of Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi.