New Delhi: The seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case will not be able to immediately walk out of jail with the Supreme Court today citing "procedural lapses" by the Tamil Nadu government which decided to release them.
The immediate effect of the apex court's order was on three prisoners-- Murugan, Santhan and Arivu-- whose death sentence was commutted to life on February 18 by it as the Centre's petition mentioned only their names but a bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam allowed it to file a seperate application on the remaining four prisoners.
As the apex court has raised questions and agreed to examine in detail the procedure adopted by the state government in deciding to release them, the seven convicts will remain in jail till further orders.
"Issue notice to the State of Tamil Nadu, Inspector General of Prisons, Chennai, the Superintendent of Central Prison, Vellore and the convicts viz. V Sriharan @ Murugan, T Suthendraraja @ Santhan and A G Perarivalan @ Arivu returnable on March 6, 2014," the bench said adding "Till such date, both parties are directed to maintain status quo prevailing as on date in respect of the convicts".
The bench, also comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi and N V Ramana, at the begining of proceedings expressed surprise on how the state government claimed to have fulfilled all the procedures within a day after the apex court commuted the death sentence of three prisoners.
"The commutation of death sentence into life cannot automatically lead to their release," the bench observed and said state cannot abrogate the procedures required under the law.
"Our judgement was pronounced on Tuesday morning and it was available at 5PM and the newspaper reports came out only on Wednesday," the bench said while spelling out the procedures required for release of the convicts.
"There are several procedural steps required to be followed and an application has to be filed before a presiding judge of a competent court for remitting sentence which was not done," it said.
Solicitor General Mohan Parasarn then said the procedures were not followed and the decision was taken in a hurry by the state government.