Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit on Monday remitted the sentences of three AIADMK functionaries who were serving life terms for torching a bus in Dharmapuri in February 2000. Three girl students of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) had died in the ensuing blaze.

Buses were set ablaze to protest the conviction of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa in the Pleasant Stay Hotel corruption case. The three AIADMK functionaries — Nedunchezian, Ravindran and Muniappan — were released from Vellore Central Prison around 1pm on Monday afternoon.

The release of the three men invited criticism from the opposition.

Purohit remitted their sentences on the state cabinet’s recommendation. Initially, he had returned the file to the government, but later cleared it when the Cabinet presented it a second time while reiterating the demand for the premature release of the trio.

The three men had set fire to the bus while protesting the conviction of J Jayalalithaa by a special court in the Pleasant Stay Hotel case. The bus was carrying 44 students and two teachers from Coimbatore on a study tour that day.

Three students — Kokilavani, Hemalatha and Gayathri — had been charred to death and this had sent shock waves across the state and AIADMK had been at the receiving end of public criticism.

The Pleasant Stay Hotel case pertains to a grant of exemption to the hotel to construct seven-storeys at the hill resort of Kodaikanal, in gross violation of rules environmental guidelines.

The court found Jayalalithaa and others accused, including her cabinet colleague TM Selvaganapathy, now with DMK, guilty of gaining pecuniary advantage in granting exemption to the hotel.

The trial court had awarded death penalty to the three AIADMK functionaries and the same was confirmed by the Supreme Court. But, hearing a review petition filed by the three convicts, the Supreme Court had commuted it to life term two years ago.

The court had accepted that the crime was not a premeditated one but was carried out in a momentary rage.

The Edappadi Palaniswami government had clubbed the release of the trio along with 1,800 other life convicts, lodged across Tamil Nadu and had served ten years of imprisonment, on the occasion of birth anniversary of former CM and AIADMK founder, MG Ramachandran.

But the AIADMK government’s decision to release the trio, and the Governor acceding to it, has drawn flak from the Opposition. The Governor has also been accused of sitting on the file related to the release of the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

The principal opposition, DMK, has alleged collusion between the AIADMK and the BJP. “This is an attempt at whitewashing the barbaric crime carried out in the name of Jayalalithaa. The release of the three men will not erase the memory of the gory tragedy. In this, both the AIADMK in power in the state and the BJP at the Centre, are colluding,” M Subramanian, MLA and former mayor of Chennai, alleged and asked why the Governor had not shown the same interest in the release of the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

“They, too, have been behind bars for the last 27 years,” he said.

For TNCC president Su. Thirunavukkarasar, the AIADMK government was setting a ‘very bad precedent’. “This is unacceptable. The Palaniswami government has set free the three AIADMK men in utter disregard to public sentiment,” he said.

Former Union minister and Tamil Maanila Congress president GK Vasan, decried the move and said, “This move to remit the sentences of the trio involved in the Dharmapuri bus burning has no public approval.”

Social media is already flooded with posts and memes questioning the Government and the Governor’s rationale. This has reignited the demand for the early release of the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, including Perarivalan.

It might be recalled that matinee icon Rajinikanth had convened a media conference to clarify that he was in favour of setting all seven free on humanitarian grounds. The actor’s previous statement that he was not aware of who the seven convicts were, had led to a severe backlash on social media.

First Published: Nov 19, 2018 17:46 IST

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