The Supreme Court on Thursday sought a response from the Gujarat government on a plea challenging the release of 11 men convicted for the gang-rape of Bilkis Bano and multiple murders during the 2002 Gujarat riots, while clarifying that it did not grant permission for remission to the convicts but instead asked the government to consider.
A bench, headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi and Vikram Nath, said the question is whether the convicts could have been granted remission and if it was within the parameters of the law.
The Gujarat government released the convicts on Independence Day, which has created a huge political controversy.
Justice Rastogi asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the petitioners: “Day in and day out, remission is granted to convicts of life sentence, what is the exception (in this matter).”
After hearing arguments, the top court issued notice to the Gujarat government and posted the next hearing after two weeks.
It clarified that its May 2022 order merely held that the remission or premature release should be considered in terms of the policy which is applicable in the state where the crime was committed. “I read somewhere the court has granted permission for remission. No, the court said only to consider,” noted the bench.
The bench asked the petitioners’ counsel to make the convicts in the case party in the plea along with the Gujarat government.
The top court observed orally: “Whatever act was committed; the accused have been punished and convicted.”
It also did not allow a plea by a counsel for one of the convicts to hear him first on the preliminary objections against the maintainability of the writ petition.
The Gujarat government counsel opposed the petition on grounds of maintainability. “Writ is not maintainable. They are strangers,” said counsel.
Sibal, representing the petitioners, narrated the grim facts of the case before the bench.
The bench was hearing a petition filed by CPI-M’s former MP Subhasini Ali, journalist Revati Laul, and Prof Roop Rekha Verma.
Eleven convicts, sentenced to life imprisonment, were released from Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy. The convicts had completed more than 15 years in jail.
In January 2008, a special CBI court in Mumbai had sentenced the convicts to life imprisonment for gang-rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family. The Bombay High Court upheld their conviction.
Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the violence that broke out after the Godhra train burning.
The PIL assailed the order of the competent authority of the Gujarat government by way of which 11 persons who were accused in a set of heinous offences were allowed to walk free on August 15, 2022 pursuant to remission being extended to them.
The petitioners contended that grant of remission solely by the competent authority of a state government, without any consultation with the Centre is impermissible in terms of the mandate of Section 435 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
Citing the facts of the case, the plea contended that no right-thinking authority applying any test under any extant policy would consider it fit to grant remission to persons who are found to have been involved in the commission of gruesome acts.