Tamil Nadu Governor Banvarilal Purohit should immediately accept the state cabinet’s recommendation for release of all the seven life convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and act on it. The release is to be effected under Article 161 of the Constitution, and the Supreme Court’s observation last week that the Governor can take a decision “as he deems fit’’ on the remission application of one of the convicts, Perarivalan, has paved the way for a positive decision. Perarivalan’s case applies to other convicts also whose petitions are pending before the court. The central government does not favour the release of the convicts, but that should not constrain the governor’s decision as the state’s advocate-general and the Supreme Court have made the legal position clear. Earlier this year, the President, on the union home ministry’s recommendation, had rejected the state government’s request to release the convicts.
Successive governments in Tamil Nadu and most political parties in the state have demanded the release of the convicts. But it is not just a political and legal issue but a humanitarian matter and involves the right and well-accepted norms of justice and jurisprudence. All the convicts have been in jail for 27 years. Punishment, and keeping convicted people in prison for long periods, sometimes for their entire lives, should not be an end in itself for the criminal justice system. Reforming them and helping them to live their lives as other members of the society is the aim of the justice system. So, continued incarceration of the seven convicts is wrong and unjust, and after 27 years in jail, they deserve to be released. It is not just a matter of mercy, as is sometimes implied by the term mercy petition, but a matter of justice and fairness of treatment. The Gandhi family has already forgiven the convicts. Perarivalan, on whose petition the Supreme Court expressed its views, had only procured the battery which was used for the explosion. He may not have known then what purpose it would be used for.
So, there is a clear case for release of the prisoners, viewed from legal, moral and other angles. The matter has been discussed for too long and tossed many times between the Centre, the state government and the courts. Now that the top court has given a nod and the state government has recommended it, the governor has no reason to delay it. Though there is no time limit prescribed for his decision, it would be improper for him to sit on it. It would also be wrong if he again seeks the Centre’s opinion or returns the recommendation to the cabinet.