THE CONTEXT:On May 18, the Supreme Court invoked its extraordinary powers to do complete justice under Article 142 of the Constitution and ordered the release of A.G. Perarivalan, a convict in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The Court took this step owing to the delay in deciding the clemency petition and reference of the same to the President by the Governor of Tamilnadu. In this article, we will analyze this issue in detail.
A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE JUDGMENT OF THE SUPREME COURT
The Court was answering two questions essentially:
- Whether the Governor can make such a reference to the President?
- Whether the primacy accorded to the Centre’s opinion under the CrPC can be extended even to remission that may be granted by the Governor under Article 161.
The Court answered these questions in the following way, which are explained in the table below:
BINDING NATURE OF ADVICE
- The law laid down by a series of judgments of the Court is well-settled that the advice of the State Cabinet is binding on the Governor in the exercise of his powers under Article 161 of the Constitution.
SCOPE OF JUDICIAL REVIEW
- Non-exercise of the power under Article 161 or inexplicable delay in exercise of such power not attributable to the prisoner is subject to judicial review by this Court.
PRESIDENTIAL REFERENCE UNCONSTITUTIONAL
- The reference of the recommendation of the Tamil Nadu Cabinet by the Governor to the President of India two and a half years after such a recommendation had been made is without any constitutional backing.
- It is inimical to the scheme of our Constitution, whereby “the Governor is but a shorthand expression for the State Government”, as observed by this Court in Maruram Vs UoI 1980.
UNION HAS NO EXECUTIVE POWER
- No express executive power has been conferred on the Centre either under the Constitution or law made by the Parliament in relation to Section 302.
- In the absence of such specific conferment, it is the executive power of the State that extends with respect to Section 302, assuming that the subject matter of Section 302 is covered by Entry 1 of List III.
FIT CASE FOR ARTICLE 142
- The Court has considered the appellant’s prolonged period of incarceration etc., and the pendency of his petition under Article 161 for two and a half years after the recommendation of the State Cabinet.
- Hence, in the exercise of its power under Article 142 of the Constitution, the Court directed that the appellant is deemed to have served a sentence in connection with the crime and set him free.
BACK TO BASICS-THE CLEMENCY POWER OF THE PRESIDENT AND THE GOVERNOR
- Article 72 deals with the clemency power of the President of India. This power extends to:
in all cases where the punishment or sentence is by a Court Martial;
in all cases where the punishment or sentence is for an offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the Union extends;
in all cases where the sentence is a sentence of death.
- This power should be exercised on the advice tendered by the executive to the President, who, subject to the provisions of Article 74(1), must act in accordance with such advice.
- In several cases, the Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that when deciding mercy petitions, the President must follow the advice of the Council of Ministers. Maru Ram vs Union of India in 1980 and Dhananjoy Chatterjee vs State of West Bengal in 1994 are two examples.
- Relevant materials must be placed by the State before the Governor so that he can make a decision.
- Under Article 161, the Governor has the power to grant clemency to anyone convicted under any law on a matter which comes under the State’s executive power.
- This power is to be exercised by the Governor as per the advice of the CoM.
- The power to pardon in all cases where the sentence is death, the power lies within President as per Art 72.
- The Supreme Court has held in Maru Ram and Kehar Singh that the power under Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution are to be exercised by the Central and the State Governments and not by the President or Governor on their own.
- In AG Perarivalan Vs State of TN, 2022, the SC held that the Governor could not refer the mercy petition to the President as it would be against federalism.
- In a 2021 judgement of the SC relating to the remission policies in Haryana, the Court held that the Governor is bound by the advice of the CoM. In fact, the Court noted that the sovereign power of a governor related to clemency to a prisoner under Article 161 is actually exercised by the State government and not the Governor on his own.
KEY TERMS-AN EXPLAINER
- Pardon: It absolves the convict of all sentences, punishments, and disqualifications by removing both the sentence and the conviction. A pardon may be absolute or conditional. It may be exercised at any time, either before legal proceedings are taken or during their pendency or after conviction. The rejection of one clemency petition does not exhaust the pardoning power of the President.
- Commutation: The substitution of one form of punishment for a less severe form. A death sentence, for example, may be commuted to rigorous imprisonment, which may then be commuted to simple imprisonment.
- Remission: It refers to reducing the length of a sentence without changing its nature. A sentence of rigorous imprisonment for two years, for example, may be reduced to rigorous imprisonment for one year.
- Respite: It refers to the imposition of a lesser sentence in place of one that was originally imposed due to a unique circumstance, such as a convict’s physical disability or a woman offender’s pregnancy.
- Reprieve:It denotes a temporary stay of execution of a sentence (especially one of death). Its purpose is to give the convict enough time to petition the President for a pardon or commutation.
CLEMENCY POWER OF THE GOVERNMENTS UNDER THE CODE OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE(Cr.PC), 1973
- The Cr.PC provides for the clemency power of ” appropriate governments” under some conditions, which are enunciated in Sections 432, 433 and 435.
- Under Section 432, the ‘appropriate government’ may suspend or remit a sentence, in whole or in part, with or without conditions. Under Section 433, any sentence may be commuted to a lesser one by the appropriate government.
- Section 432 explains that which government has the authority to decide on clemency (Union or State) will depend on which government enjoy the executive power in enforcing the law against which the offence is committed.
- Section 435 says that if the prisoner had been sentenced in a case investigated by the CBI, or any agency that probed the offence under a Central Act, the State government could order such release only in consultation with the Central government.
- In the case of death sentences, the Central government may also concurrently exercise the same power as the State government to remit or suspend the sentence.
- In Maru Ram etc. vs Union of India (1980), the Supreme Court said: “Section 432 and Section 433 of the Code are not a manifestation of Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution but a separate, though similar, power.”
A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF CLEMENCY POWER
- At present, the monarch exercises power on the advice of the departmental minister, the Home Secretary.
- The Home Secretary’s decision can, in some situations, be challenged by judicial review.
- All in all, it may be concluded that in the UK, judicial review of the power of pardon is extremely restricted in scope.
- The British constitutional structure recognizes the supremacy of Parliament and provides an altogether narrower scope for judicial review than the Indian Constitution, which tends towards the separation of powers.
- Thus, British precedent in this area has limited application to India.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
- Article II of the US Constitution grants the President of the United States the “Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”
- The Court has been cautious in its interpretation of the pardoning power of the President except in very limited areas. However, apart from judicial scrutiny in these areas, the power of pardon has been allowed to be exercised freely.
- Governors (and, many would contend, Presidents) have regularly exercised the clemency power in ways that are clearly at odds with society’s interests, including granting or denying pardons to convicted murderers solely because of campaign promises made to supporters.
- One Governor was even impeached and removed for particularly blatant abuses of the pardoning power.
A TIMELINE OF THE EVENTS LEADING TO THE SC JUDGMENT
- May 21, 1991:Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by a suicide bomber belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
- June 11, 1991:19-year-old A G Perarivalan was arrested by CBI and booked under TADA along with other accused in the case.
- January 12, 1998: After a prolonged trial, the TADA court sentenced 26 accused to death, including Nalini and Perarivalan.
- May 11, 1999: Supreme Court upholds the death sentence of four, including Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini, sentenced three others to life sentences and frees 19 other death convicts.
- April 2000: Nalini’s death penalty is commuted to life by the then Tamil Nadu governor on the basis of a recommendation of the state cabinet and a public appeal made by Sonia Gandhi.
- 2001:Three death convicts, including Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan, submit their mercy pleas to the President of India.
- August 11, 2011: Pratibha Patil, the then President, rejects their mercy petitions after 11 years.
- Aug 2011: Madras HC orders stay on the execution of three death convicts ahead of their scheduled hanging on September 9, 2011. A resolution is passed by the then chief minister J Jayalalithaa, seeking commutation of the death sentence.
- Nov 2013:Former CBI SP V Thiagarajan, who had taken the confession of Perarivalan in TADA custody, reveals that he altered it to qualify as a confession statement.
- January 21, 2014: SC commutes death penalty of three Rajiv Gandhi case convicts, along with 12 others, including aides of forest brigand Veerappan, into life imprisonment. The Court cited the inordinate delay in deciding the mercy petition by the President to commute the sentence of death.
- 2015:Perarivalan submits a mercy petition to the Tamil Nadu governor seeking release under Article 161 of the Constitution. Later, he moves Supreme Court after getting no reply from the Governor.
- Aug 2017: Tamil Nadu government grants parole to Perarivalan, the first after his arrest in 1991.
- September 9, 2018: Tamil Nadu Cabinet, headed by the chief minister, recommends the release of all seven convicts.
- Jan 2021: As the Governor continues to sit on the cabinet recommendation, SC orders to take a decision and warns that the Court will be forced to release them, citing the inordinate delay.
- May 2021:Perarivalan is out on parole. The new DMK government kept extending the parole.
- March 9, 2022:The Supreme Court grants bail to Perarivalan.
- May 11, 2022:The Supreme Court concludes the hearing in the case.
- May 18, 2022:Supreme Court orders release of Perarivalan from jail.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE ARGUMENTS AND COUNTER-ARGUMENTS GIVEN BY THE PARTIES
THE UNION GOVERNMENT
- In cases where the sentence is for an offence against any law relating to a matter to which the Union’s executive power extends, the Central Government is the appropriate government to consider pleas of remission.
- To demonstrate the scope of the Union’s executive power, the Union cited Article 73 of the Constitution, which states that such powers would extend to all matters over which Parliament has legislative authority.
- It indicated that the Indian Penal Code is a law enacted by Parliament and hence the remission requests for offences under the code would be considered by the President.
- The IPC is on the concurrent list, and under the principles outlined in Articles 246 to 245 when both the Union Government and the State Government have executive power, the Union Government would take precedence.
THE STATE OF TAMILNADU
- The Governor’s reference to the mercy petition to the President is an absolute derogation of the federal structure envisaged in the Constitution.
- The sentence for offences under the Central Act had already been undergone by the prisoner, and the only offence for which Perarivalan is now serving a sentence is punishable under Section 302 IPC.
- The proviso to Article 73 of the Constitution makes it clear that the Union Government’s executive power would not extend to matters over which the State Legislature also has legislative authority unless explicitly mentioned in the Constitution or any Central Law.
- Because neither the IPC nor the CrPC contains a saving clause that reserves power for the Union Government, the Union Government’s executive power would not extend to matters within the purview of the State executive.
- The IPC is not a Parliamentary enactment but rather an existing law that the Parliament has amended from time to time. The IPC is a collection of penal laws that deal with a wide range of offences that are referenced in various lists of Schedule 7 of the Constitution.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE JUDGMENT?
- First, the judgement holds that the Governor’s duty while performing his functions, including the power to remit, suspend, or commute sentences under Article 161, is to follow the recommendations of the State Cabinet.
- Second, an important finding is that the Governor was not required to refer the case to the President.
- Third, Governors must exercise their authority on time.
- Fourth, the judgement acknowledges the State’s power in matters of remission, commutation, and so on.
- Fifth, the verdict upholds prisoners’ human rights.
ARTICLE 142- AN OVERVIEW
The Supreme Court has used its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, from the Union Carbide Case in 1989 through the Ayodhya Ram Mandir ruling in 2019.
In situations where a law or statute may not always offer a remedy, Article 142 “provide(s) a unique power to the Supreme Court, to do ‘full justice’ between the parties,i.e., the Court might extend itself to put a quietus to a dispute in a way that would befit the facts of the case.The framers of the Constitution thought that this clause was crucial for people who are compelled to endure suffering because the judicial system is ineligible to provide the necessary remedies.
WHETHER INVOCATION OF ARTICLE 142 IS JUSTIFIED?
The use of Article 142 is justified by the case’s unusual facts, which are almost unique. The Governor’s delay in accepting the State Cabinet decision was enormous. It had an impact on a person’s liberty who was legally and constitutionally entitled to be released. For decades, the case was fought. The Centre’s usual litigation strategies contributed to the delay. The Court may have been aware of the procedural injustice meted out to Perarivalan and concluded that the only way to correct it was to invoke Article 142 and release the prisoner. A return to the Governor of the petition would have prolonged the litigation, which had already exceeded all reasonable bounds. Thus, the argument that this violates the separation of power doctrine does not hold much conviction, although this power being extraordinary, needs to be used very sparingly when either of the other two organs fails to act.
THE WAY FORWARD:
ROLE OF GOVERNOR
- The Governor’s role has been seriously questioned due to the constitutional impropriety displayed by politically partisan governors.
- The inordinate delay in deciding the clemency petition needs to be seen in the context of changing the role of the Governor from “purely being an agent of centre”.
- Hence, governors should strictly follow their constitutional dharma.
CHANGING FEDERAL EQUATIONS
- The federal equations between the Centre and states have reached new lows in recent times, which open new fault lines in federal dynamics. This clemency controversy is another such instance, and hence a better Centre-state relationship must be developed.
NEED FOR CHANGE IN PARDON POWER
- A wide public debate needs to be initiated on the whole issue of pardoning power, its mechanism and employment.
FAULTY AND MOTIVATED INVESTIGATION
- All the limbs of the criminal justice system need to work towards securing justice for all, including the accused.
- In this instant case, it was seen that forced confession was extracted from the appellant and such motivated and faulty investigation strikes at the very roots of the justice system.
POLITICIZATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
- The human rights of individuals should not be made to suffer at the altar of political manipulations and machinations.
A TIME LIMIT FOR EXERCISING PARDON POWER
- In Perarivalan vs Union of India. 2014, the SC held that “apex constitutional authorities” like the President and the Governor must exercise their clemency powers under Articles 72 and 161, respectively, within the “bounds of constitutional discipline” and in an “expeditious manner”.
- The fact that no time limit is prescribed to the President/Governor for disposal of the mercy petition should compel the government to work in a more systematized manner to repose the confidence of the people in the institution of democracy.
REVISIT THE NEED FOR CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
- The entire saga of cases related to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination once again generated a debate on the need for capital punishment in Indian Statute books, especially in the context of decision/non-decision/rejection of mercy petitions.
- As it is not possible to know the reason behind this act of the President/Governor, and subjective factors might influence decisions, a moratorium on capital sentence need to be enforced in the shorter term,
THE CONCLUSION: The SC judgement has provided clarity as to the nature of the relation between the governor and the state government vis a vis the clemency power. However, it would be naïve to think that such instances would not recur in future unless the governors display political sagacity. It is in the interest of justice, public cause and human rights that Centre-state relations should improve, for which the role of the Governor is very important while the scope of judicial review is minimum.
- What was held by the Supreme Court in AG Perarivalan Vs State, 2022? Do you think that this judgement has provided clarity with respect to the exercise of the clemency power by the Governor? Explain.
- “Constitutional clemency differs from statutory clemency”. Comment.
- “When politics determines justice, human rights become a causality” Elaborate in the context of the SC judgment on the clemency power of the Governor in the Perarivalan case 2022.