The plea for remission of the jail sentence of Perarivalan, one of the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, has been caught in delays caused by legal procedures and inaction on the part of the Governor of Tamil Nadu. There is much confusion over the matter even as it has reached the Supreme Court again. While Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that Governor Banwarilal Purohit will take a decision in four days, the court in its order said a decision will be taken in four weeks. The Centre added to the uncertainty by arguing that the plea for remission should be decided by the President, not the Governor. This could be another delaying tactic, though the issues involved have already been settled by the court. The court had in 2015 decided that the power of clemency lay with the President or the Governor, and in 2018 told the Governor to take a decision on Perarivalan’s petition. The state cabinet made the recommendation two years ago for remission, but the Governor has not taken a decision yet.
Last week, the apex court observed that the delay on the part of the Governor was “extraordinary’’. It is wrong on the Governor’s part to dillydally on the matter just because the Centre is against remission. The Centre had rejected Perarivalan’s petition, along with those of six others who have been in prison for about 30 years and their case for remission is well-deserved. As for Perarivalan, his role in the former prime minister’s assassination was minor. Only 19 at the time, he procured the batteries used in the explosive, without possibly knowing what they were for. Rajiv Gandhi’s family, for its part, has forgiven the convicts.
If the conviction and punishment of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers was an act of justice, holding them in jail for so long a period is denial of justice. The aim of the criminal justice system is reformation of a convict, and not incarceration for a long period, which sometimes stretches for the entire life. Convicts should be given an opportunity to be a part of society and to live like others. This is not possible when retribution becomes the idea behind punishment and the better part of the convict’s life is spent in jail. It is a humanitarian issue also. Justice is not just about law, it should have a human face. When all political parties in Tamil Nadu have demanded the release of the convicts, the state cabinet has recommended it and the court has paved the way for it, the Governor has no reason to sit on it.