New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday transferred to itself a petition seeking commutation of the death sentence of the three assassins of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, on the ground of inordinate delay in deciding their mercy pleas by the president.

The apex court bench headed by Justice G.S. Singhvi transferred to itself the petitions of the three convicts condemned to death from the Madras High Court on a plea by lawyer K.L. Venkat.

He argued that the "surcharged atmosphere in Chennai would not allow for a fair hearing". The three convicts who are on death row in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case are Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan. Rajiv was assassinated in 1991 at an election rally at Sriperumbudur, near Chennai.

The Rajiv assassins were pronounced guilty and awarded death sentence by the trial court in 1999. They had moved their mercy petitions before the president seeking commutation of their death sentences to life imprisonment in the year 2000.The petitions were transferred from the Madras High Court by the apex court through a ruling pronounced on Tuesday.

Earlier, in 2011, their mercy petitions were rejected by the president.