Wrong to reject Rajiv convicts’ plea

It is unfortunate that President Ram Nath Kovind has rejected the request for the release of seven convicts, who are undergoing imprisonment for life since 1991 in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The Tamil Nadu government had sought their release on humanitarian grounds, but the Union home ministry advised the President against it. The Tamil Nadu government had in the past also petitioned the Centre unsuccessfully in the matter. It had decided to release the convicts, but the Supreme Court stayed the decision. It again went to the court with the convicts’ petitions and the court referred the matter to the Central government. Whatever the ministry’s consideration in rejecting the request, it was wrong. Mercy petitions and recommendations have been allowed by the President in thousands of cases in the past. The cases of these seven prisoners are not less deserving than many of them.

Politics and procedural issues have clouded the matter, where there is a strong and genuine case for the release of the convicts. The requests have been couched as mercy petitions, but there is merit in them that goes beyond the call of mercy. A reasoned assessment of the cases based on principles of jurisprudence would sanction the release of the convicts. They have been in jail for 27 years. One of them, Perarivalan, was convicted for procuring a nine-volt battery which was used to set off the bomb that killed the former prime minister. There is still some doubt whether Perarivalan knew what the battery he procured was going to be used for. In any case, the basic aim of the criminal justice system is to reform criminals. The penalties prescribed by the system are intended for that and not for retribution, and that is why the death sentence, for instance, is at odds with the spirit of the system. A jail sentence of 27 years is long enough time for reform and so the convicts have a claim to be released even without appealing to the spirit of mercy. It should also be noted that Rajiv Gandhi’s family has forgiven the convicts for their role in the assassination. The death sentence of three convicts had already been commuted to life imprisonment. 

The issue of release has been mixed up with Tamil Nadu politics, and the government and the political parties in the state have been persistently demanding action under Article 161 for grant of pardon or remission of sentence. It has been contentious on other grounds, too. But the central government should have taken a saner view and allowed the best and highest norms of justice to prevail in the case. They still can be released on the basis of a principle without recourse to sentiment. 

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Wrong to reject Rajiv convicts’ plea

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