Chennai, Aug 30: In a major legal reprieve to the three Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts, Madras High Court today stayed for eight weeks their execution fixed for September 9 even as the Tamil Nadu Assembly appealed to President Pratibha Patil to reconsider their mercy pleas.
Shortly before the High Court order came, the Assembly adopted unanimously a resolution moved by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa requesting the President to reconsider the mercy petitions, which she had rejected early this month.
Granting the stay, a Bench comprising justices C Nagappan and M Sathayanarayanan observed there had been a delay of over 11 years in the disposal of the petitions filed by the three convicts seeking Presidential clemency.
Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, lodged in Vellore Jail, were convicted and sentenced to death in the case relating to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi during an election rally at Sriperumpudur on May 21, 1991 by an LTTE suicide bomber.
Admitting the petitions of the three, whose plea for commutation of death penalty to life was argued by senior counsel Ram Jethmalani and others, the court issued notices to the Centre, the state government and the Police.
Jethmalani, Colin Gonsalves and R Vaigai, appearing for the three convicts, contended the “inordinate and inexplainable delay” in disposing of their mercy petitions violated Article 21 of the Constitution (Protection of life and personal liberty).
Huge crowd outside the court cheered the interim order that was keenly awaited by leaders of several political parties and human rights groups who have launched a campaign to save the lives of the three convicts.
MDMK leader Vaiko, who has been strongly pleading for the release of the three, was also present in the court.
“The High Court is doing justice. Be sure. They have stayed the execution”, Jethmalani said and thanked Vaiko for taking up the issue.
The delay of 11 years in deciding their mercy plea was “mental torture” for the convicts. “You make them suffer thousand times. Is this justice?” Jethmalani asked.
In the assembly, bowing to pressure from various political leaders, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa moved the resolution urging the President to commute the death sentences of the three convicts.
She said the people of the state were “saddened” by the fact that the death sentence was to be executed soon. The move by Jayalalithaa came a day after she told the Assembly that she did not have the power to annul the death sentence or put their execution on hold after the rejection of their mercy plea by the President.
“Many political parties have appealed to me to commute death sentences and in order to respect the sentiments of the people of the state, I appeal to the members of the house to pass the resolution unanimously”, she said.
The court order and the assembly initiative were welcomed by Perarivalan's family members, present in the court. His mother Arputhammal claimed all the three condemned prisoners were innocent and be allowed to live.
“I was in grief whether I will get my son back. But Amma (Jayalalithaa) has passed a resolution and has given me joy. She has given me hope of bringing back my son. I am extremely happy. I don't know how to express my happiness. I am thankful to all those who worked for this,” she told reporters.
“Everyone has struggled for my son and this support should be there till my son is released,” she said before breaking down.
An ecstatic Vaiko said: “We are grateful to Ram Jethmalani and the High Court for staying the sentence.”
On his part, Jethmalani said: “ I am here because of my friend Vaiko. It's Vaiko who brought me here and you all should be grateful to the High Court for granting the stay”.
A late evening PTI report says, the Centre is likely to tell the Madras High Court that no time limit is prescribed for the President to take a decision on mercy petition of any death row convict.
Official sources said today the Home Ministry has received a notice from the High Court seeking its response on the petition filed on behalf of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, who were sentenced to death for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
The petition contended there had been a delay of over 11 years in the disposal of the petitions filed by the three convicts seeking Presidential clemency.
“Constitution does not provide any time limit for the President to decide any clemency petition. So, the argument of the delay does not hold any ground,” officials said.
The petition was filed seeking a review of the President's order rejecting the clemency pleas of the three convicts who were sentenced to death in the case relating to the assassination of Gandhi during an election rally at Sriperumpudur on May 21, 1991 by an LTTE suicide bomber.