Chennai: The Madras High Court on Tuesday stayed for eight weeks the execution of three Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts.
The three -- Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan -- lodged in Vellore jail, were scheduled to be hanged on 9 September.
Granting the interim 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 mercy petitions filed by the convicts to the President seeking clemency.
The matter involved a question of law, the judges said and admitted the writ petitions and issued notices to the centre, the state and Tamil Nadu police.
Their case was taken up by senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani and others.
A crowd that had gathered outside the court welcomed the court order. MDMK leader Vaiko, who strongly pleaded for the commutation of capital punishment, was also present in the court.
Senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, R Vaigai and Colin Gonsalves, appearing on behalf of the three convicts, contended that the “inordinate and inexplainable delay” in disposing of their mercy petitions violated Article 21 of the Constitution (Protection of life and personal liberty).
Jethmalani later told reporters that the delay of 11 years in deciding their mercy plea was “mental torture” for the convicts. “You make him suffer thousand times. Is this justice?” he asked.
He said the government should consider the “people’s voice” against execution.
The mercy petitions of the three convicts were rejected by President Pratibha Patil early this month, 11 years after the submission of the petitions and 20 years after the assassination.
Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan had sought to set aside the order of the President on the ground of ‘undue delay´ in disposing of their mercy petitions.
They claimed “an unwarranted, illegal and unconstitutional delay is caused by the President and the Union of India in the disposal of the mercy petition”.
“No explanation has been offered either for the delay in forwarding of the mercy petitions by the state government to the President or the delay in disposal by both the authorities,” they contended.