NEW DELHI, Feb 18 � In a major relief to three condemned prisoners in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the Supreme Court today commuted their death sentence to life imprisonment on the ground of 11 years delay in deciding their mercy plea by the Centre, reports PTI.
A bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam rejected the Centre�s submission that there was no unreasonable delay in deciding their mercy plea and the condemned prisoners did not go through agonising experience as they were enjoying life behind the bars.
The bench, also comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and S K Singh, said they are unable to accept the Centre�s view and commuted the death sentence of convicts�Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan�to imprisonment for life subject to remission by the government.
It asked the Centre to give timely advice to the President so that mercy petitions can be decided without unreasonable delay.
�We implore the government to render advice in reasonable time to the President,� the bench said, adding that �the executive should exercise its power one way or other in reasonable time�.
It said the government should handle the cases of mercy petitions in a more systematised manner.
�We are confident that mercy plea can be decided at much faster speed than what is being done now,� the bench said.
Rajiv Gandhi was killed in May 1991. His assassins were convicted by a TADA court in January 1998 and were awarded death sentence, which was confirmed by the apex court May 11, 1999.
The bench had reserved its verdict on February 4 on the petition of the three convicts for commutation of their death sentence to life imprisonment on ground of delay in deciding their mercy plea.
Their plea was strongly opposed by the Centre which had said that it was not a fit case for the apex court to commute death sentence on the ground of delay in deciding mercy plea.
Admitting that there has been delay in deciding the mercy petitions, the government, however, had contended that the delay was not unreasonable, unexplainable and unconscionable to commute death penalty.
The convicts� counsel had contested the Centre�s arguments, saying they have suffered due to the delay and the apex court should intervene and commute their death sentence to life term.