The Supreme Court (SC) today stopped the Tamil Nadu government from releasing four of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's assassins who are serving life terms.
The court also said it will decide, within a week, on the fight between the Centre and Tamil Nadu over who can decide on freeing all seven convicts in the case.
"Our intention is not to stop the release. We will lay down guidelines. Every state must be aware of rules and procedure to be followed," said the Chief Justice of India, P Sathasivam.
Arguing against the Centre's plea against the convicts' release, the Tamil Nadu government said, "If we wanted, we could have released these four (who are serving life terms). Why should the Centre rush to court?" The court questioned, "Who is rushing? You or the Centre?"
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's announcement that she would let off the seven convicts was seen by critics as a blatantly populist move ahead of the national election three months away.
The Supreme Court last week stopped the state from freeing three of the assassins - Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan - who were spared execution last week because of an exceptional delay in a decision on their mercy plea.
Tamil Nadu said nothing stopped it from releasing the four others serving life term, Nalini Sriharan, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran, which was contested by the Centre.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said letting off the convicts would be contrary to all principles of justice as Rajiv Gandhi's assassination was "an attack on the soul of India."
The convicts have spent over 20 years in jail. Nalini, who was earlier on death row, was granted mercy on the intervention of Rajiv Gandhi's widow and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 by a woman operative of the Lankan Tamil separatist outfit LTTE, who greeted him with a bomb strapped to her chest during a rally in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu. For years, the case has been linked to Tamil sentiment and all regional parties in the state have campaigned for the convicts' release. (Source: NDTV)