The Supreme Court’s decision to set free six persons, including four Sri Lankan nationals. They had been serving life terms for about three decades in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, noting that its earlier order releasing another convict A G Perarivalan was equally applicable to them on the advice of the Tamil Nadu government. After a CBI SIT investigation and a legal process that started in a TADA court and ended in the Supreme Court, these individuals—Nalini, Ravichandran, Santhan, Robert Payas, Jayakumar, and Murugan—were found guilty. Congress expressed its disappointment over the Supreme Court's order.
On May 21, 1991, an LTTE suicide bomber attacked a political rally in Sriperumbudur, close to Chennai, killing the former prime minister and 15 other people. 26 of the 41 defendants in the case were given death sentences by a TADA court in January 1998; a year later, the SC released 19 of them, upheld the death penalty for four people, and commuted the death sentences of three more to life in prison. On the suggestion of the state administration, the governor of Tamil Nadu commuted Nalini's death sentence to life in prison in 2000. The other three death row inmates had their sentences commuted to life in prison by the SC in 2014 on the grounds that the Center had been excessively slow to reply to their petitions for compassion. The SC permitted A G Perarivalan's life sentence to be commuted in May 2022.
The highest court used the unusual authority afforded to it by Article 142 of the Indian Constitution. As a result, the Supreme Court is empowered by the Constitution's Article 142 to issue whatever orders are required to deliver full justice in any case or subject that is currently before it. The highest court may use this authority where the current legal framework falls short of offering a remedy that is sufficient to ensure full justice. There are numerous situations in which Article 142 may be used. The supreme court has used this one-of-a-kind and unusual power in a broad variety of cases, ranging from those involving the environment to those involving human rights to, most recently, one involving taxes. One of the most well-known instances of the Supreme Court using Article 142 was in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid controversy.
The Court should have protected the rule of law and due process from being unduly affected by the political executive, nonetheless. When the plight of hundreds of people who have been imprisoned for protracted periods due to state overreach in restricting individual liberties is taken into account, its approach is stark. The silence of the political class, including those who support hyper-nationalism, shows that the Rajiv assassination case appears to have favoured the convicts due to Tamil subnationalism. The politicisation of due process makes this arbitrariness even riskier. Consider how, purportedly on the advice of the Gujarat state government, the Ministry of Home Affairs recently paved the way for life convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, including gang rape and murder during the 2002 Gujarat riots, to be released. Ironically, the Supreme Court in the Bilkis Bano case objected to the state agencies' examination into whether or not the victims of horrifying communal violence received justice.
It is perplexing that the courts have enabled local political opinions to have more influence upon individual liberty than the language and spirit of the law. To avoid the accusation of exceptionalism, it may be necessary to reform the law or the procedure or to codify it. However, ceding control of crime and punishment to the political executive is bad for the judiciary.