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SC transfers Rajiv Gandhi killers' case to itself

The Supreme Court today decided to adjudicate itself the pleas of Rajiv Gandhi killers against their death penalty due to the delay of over 11 years in deciding their mercy petitions by the President.

A bench headed by Justice G S Singhvi directed that their petitions, pending with the Madras High Court, be sent to it and listed the case for hearing on 10 July.

The court passed the order on a petition by one L K Venkat seeking transfer of their pleas out of Tamil Nadu on his fears that the free and fair hearings would not possible in the state due to the surcharged atmosphere, favouring the death row convicts.

The Tamil Nadu government earlier on 10 October 2011 had opposed the plea to shift the case out of the Madras High Court denying the allegations that the atmosphere in the state was too 'vitiated and surcharged' to hold a free and fair hearing in the case.

Senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, appearing for the three death row convicts - Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan alias Arivu, too had opposed the transfer plea on the ground that Article 139A [relating to transfer of certain cases] gives power only to the Attorney General of India or the aggrieved parties to file a petition for transfer.

On a petition by the three death row convicts, the Madras High Court had earlier stayed their hanging and had issued notices to the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government.

The three convicts had challenged before the high court, the sentence despite the same having been upheld earlier by the apex court and the President having rejected their mercy pleas subsequently.

Venkat subsequently had moved the apex court seeking transfer of their appeals out of the state high court and the apex court had issued notices on his petition to the state.

Venkat had alleged in his plea that the convicts' appeals challenging their death sentences cannot be heard in a free and fair atmosphere in the state as several supporters of the banned LLTE were interfering with the functioning of the judiciary by raising slogans in support of the convicts.

Venkat had told the apex court that on 30 August 2011 when the Madras High Court took up the convicts' appeals for hearing, about 5,000 people had gathered in the court premises and had disturbed its proceedings.

He had alleged that soon after the high court stayed the executions, people raised slogans in joy inside and outside the courtroom.

The transfer petition has alleged that the state government, besides various political leaders, were also directly or indirectly supporting the cause of the convicts.

In their plea to the high court, the three death row convicts had challenged their sentence saying that the 11-year delay in deciding their mercy plea was inhuman.

Their main contention was that the delay in disposal of the mercy petitions by 11 years and four months made the execution of the death sentence 'unduly harsh and excessive', amounting to violation of their right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

On the trio's plea, the high court had stayed their execution slated for 9 September 2011.
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