New Delhi, Feb 27: The Supreme Court Thursday stayed the release of four convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, ordering the status quo on a plea by the centre challenging the Tamil Nadu government’s proposal to release them.

An apex court bench headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam directed that the central government’s plea would be heard March 6.

The central government had sought the stay of the state government’s decision to grant remission to the seven convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and communication to that affect by the state chief secretary.

The four convicts are Jayakumar, Robert Payas, P.Ravichandran and S. Nalini.

The Tamil Nadu government, by its Feb 19 letter to the central government, said that it proposes to release the seven convicts who have already served 23 years of imprisonment, and gave the central government three days to give its views on the proposed decision.

The central government told the court that in its reply on Feb 21, it said that the state did not have the jurisdiction to grant remission and also noted the pendency of the petition seeking the review of the apex court verdict commuting the death sentence of three key conspirators to life imprisonment.

It said remitting the sentences of the seven convicts and releasing them from custody was “contrary to the procedure established by law.”

The central government’s petition noted that some of the offences under which these convicts were charged were under the central laws like the Arms Act, Explosive Substance Act, Foreigners Act, Wireless Telegraphy Act and the Passport Act and thus outside the jurisdiction of the Tamil Nadu government.

It also told the court that Tamil Nadu government had failed to appreciate that Rajiv Gandhi assassination case was investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is a central agency and as per section 435 of Code of Criminal Procedure, there was no occasion for the state government to consider granting the remission to the seven convicts.

The central government’s plea said that the selective exercise of power of remission, which in fact does not vest in the Tamil Nadu government, for the release of the seven convicts was “malafide” and “arbitrary”.

It said that all the seven convicts, whose sentences Tamil Nadu government is seeking to remit, were part of a conspiracy to eliminate the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi with the “motive that in the event he would be elected, the IPKF would return to Sri Lanka and would have impacted the LTTE”. This demonstrates the “nature of (their) crime being unique”.

The seven convicts had “meticulously conceived executed a (plan of) highly organised foreign terrorist organization” that resulted in the loss of 17 innocent lives and injuries to many as a result of an LTTE human bomb.

The apex court Feb 20 stayed the release of three key conspirators – A.G. Perarivlan alias Arivu (Indian), V. Sriharan alias Murugan and T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan (Sri Lankans) – whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by it Feb 18 on the grounds of inordinate delay in deciding their mercy petitions.