The Tamil Nadu government on Monday opposed in the Supreme Court a plea to shift out of the Madras High Court the appeals of three Rajiv Gandhi assassins, challenging their death penalty on account of an 11-year delay in deciding their mercy petition by the President.
Tamil Nadu's Additional Advocate General Gurukrishna Kumar opposed the plea for transfer of the three convicts' appeals out of the state high court, denying allegations made before the apex court that the atmosphere in the state was too "vitiated and surcharged" to hold a free and fair hearing in the case.
Kumar also questioned the locus standi of petitioner L K Venkat, seeking the apex court's direction for transfer of the case out of Madras High Court to the Supreme Court.
Senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, appearing for the three convicts on death row, also 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.
Venkat's counsel L Nandkumar, however, submitted that a free and fair hearing of the proceedings cannot be held in the Madras High Court owing to the "surcharged, hostile and vitiated" atmosphere prevailing there.
After hearing the arguments by various parties, a bench of justices G S Signhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya asked the state to file a counter affidavit within a week and posted the matter for further hearing to October 19.
The bench asked Tamil Nadu government to file a counter affidavit on the plea for shifting appeals of the three condemned prisoners in the assassination case out of the state high court.
"Though the request made by the state additional advocate general is unreasonable, we are granting time for filing the counter affidavit," the bench said.
The judges were irked at Tamil Nadu government's request as it had failed to reply till date to its September 15 notice on plea.
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 -- Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan alias Arivu -- had challenged 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 the 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 August 30 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 September 9.