But at an urgent hearing on Feb.20, the SC observed, “Commutation of death sentence into life cannot automatically lead to release.” It said the state would have to follow procedure. In its application, the UPA government said the state wasn’t authorized to release the convicts, and definitely not till the court had decided the Centre’s review plea against its February 18 verdict commuting the convicts’ death sentence to life. Notices have been issued to the three convicts, the state, inspector general of prisons Chennai and superintendent of central prison Vellore Jail, seeking their response by March 6, the next date of hearing. Subramanium Prasad, counsel for the state, said they would contest the Centre’s claim and place their stand in court on March 6.
The home ministry conveyed to the state that the seven were prosecuted by a central agency (CBI) under central laws like TADA (now repealed) and the arms act, and that section 435 of the CrPC says in such cases state governments can’t go ahead with remission or commutation of sentence without consulting the Centre. The state’s decision has been severely criticised. The BJP’s Arun Jaitley called it a case of misconceived compassion while the Congress’ Anand Sharma said terrorism and assassinations can’t be “politically legitimised”.