The Bombay high court on Wednesday rejected the intervention application filed by Bilkis Bano, the survivor of a gang-rape and the witness to the murder of her family, in the aftermath of the 2002 Godhra riots.
The court ruled that the application was not covered under provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code. However, it said that as it was inclined to hear what Bano had to say, it would allow her to convert her intervention application into an appeal.
This appeal however, cannot challenge the life sentence awarded to the 11 convicts by the trial court and instead, should challenge the acquittal of the five Gujarat policemen in the case, said the court.
A bench of Justices VK Tahilramani and Mridula Bhatkar directed Bano’s counsel to inform the court of her decision by Thursday morning.
The bench was hearing an appeal filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which sought that the sentence of the convicts be increased. The bench was also hearing an appeal filed by the convicts in the case, who challenged their conviction.
In August, Bano had filed the intervention application, seeking that she be granted a hearing.
On Wednesday, Bano’s counsel Vijay Hiremath argued that she had approached the high court after having endured a long and taxing cross examination before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the trial court.He added that as an “eye witness and a victim in the case,” she had a “right to participate.” He argued that the 2008 amendment to the CrPC that allowed a victim in criminal cases to appeal must also confer a right to intervene.
The submissions however, were opposed by advocate Harshad Ponda, the counsel for the convicts. Ponda said the amendments only allowed a victim to file an appeal and not an intervention application. He argued that the law did not permit a victim to file an appeal seeking that the sentence of the convicts be increased.
Ponda said the CrPC amendment allowed an appeal only under three circumstances — challenging the acquittal of an accused, challenging a verdict if the accused has been convicted for a lesser offence, and if the victim has been awarded inadequate compensation.
The CBI’s counsel, advocate Hiten Venegaonkar said that in cases such as this one, where “grievous crimes had been committed,” the court must consider granting a hearing to the victim.