Chennai: The Madras High Court Tuesday stayed for eight weeks the execution of three men convicted of conspiring to assassinate former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
The order coincided with the Tamil Nadu assembly passing an unanimous resolution asking President Pratibha Patil to review the mercy petitions.
Hearing the petitions filed by Murugan alias Sriharan, T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan and A.G. Perarivalan alias Arivu that their death sentences be commuted, the High Court ordered an interim stay on the hanging pending disposal of the case.
The court has ordered notice to the federal government returnable in eight weeks. The petitions were heard by Justices C. Nagappan and M. Satyanarayanan.
On August 11, Indian President Pratibha Patil rejected the mercy petitions of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan — all linked to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — and sentenced them to death for their involvement in Gandhi's 1991 assassination.
Rajiv Gandhi, who was prime minister from 1984-89, was killed by suicide bomber Dhanu at an election rally in Sriperumbudur near Chennai. Fourteen other people also lost their lives in the blast.
Mercy plea review
The Tamil Nadu assembly also moved a resolution asking the president to review her mercy plea and commute the death sentence to life imprisonment.
Citing the concern of the people of Tamil Nadu and the appeals by various political parties, Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha said the resolution was moved on behalf of the state government. The clemency petition was rejected by the president after 11 years and the delay is prima facie wrong, senior counsel Ram Jethmalani said while arguing for Perarivalan.
He said a notice seeking explanation for the delay should be sent.
Urging the speedy disposal of mercy petitions, Jethmalani had said earlier that if there was a delay of two years, then the death sentence would be commuted to life imprisonment.
"Perhaps the delay in deciding on the mercy petition made the high court grant the stay. The Rajiv Gandhi assassination case is one of the rarest of rare cases where death sentence is warranted," political commentator Cho Ramaswamy said.
"Apart from Rajiv Gandhi, several others were killed in the blast," he added.