Bilkis Bano moves Supreme Court over convicts’ early release

Updated on Dec 01, 2022 12:20 AM IST

Bilkis Bano moved the Supreme Court on Wednesday against the Gujarat government’s decision to allow the 11 men, sentenced to life in 2008 for her gang-rape and murder of seven family members, to walk out of jail on remission.

Bilkis Bano moved the Supreme Court on Wednesday against the Gujarat government’s decision. (PTI)
Bilkis Bano moved the Supreme Court on Wednesday against the Gujarat government’s decision. (PTI)

Stressing that the convicts deserved no mercy in view of the heinous crime they committed, Bilkis Bano moved the Supreme Court on Wednesday against the Gujarat government’s decision to allow the 11 men, sentenced to life in 2008 for her gang-rape and murder of seven family members, to walk out of jail on remission.

Through two separate petitions, Bano has also sought a review of the Supreme Court’s May order by which the state government was directed to consider the convicts plea for premature release in accordance with the 1992 policy – the one prevalent on the date of their conviction. While the existing remission policy of 2014 of the Gujarat government prohibits early release of rape convicts, no such restrictions were there in the 1992 policy.

Appearing before Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud on Wednesday, Bano’s lawyer Shobha Gupta requested for early listing of the two petitions. Gupta pointed out that justice Ajay Rastogi, who headed the bench that passed the May order and is currently hearing a bunch of petitions against the premature release of the convicts, may not be able to hear the matter soon because he is a member of a constitution bench.

The CJI, however, said that the matter will have to be listed before justice Rastogi only, adding he would decide on the listing after looking into the matter. After Gupta mentioned that she has also pleaded for an open court hearing of Bano’s review petition, CJI Chandrachud said that only the concerned bench can take such calls.

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Review petitions, under the Supreme Court Rules, are usually considered by judges in their chambers without an open court hearing. However, when a party requests for an open court hearing, the bench may allow oral arguments depending on the merit of the plea.

The bench, led by justice Rastogi, is currently seized of a clutch of petitions filed against the August 10 order of the Gujarat government granting the benefit of remission to the 11 convicts under the 1992 policy. While Bano approached the court on Wednesday, these petitions were filed by former CPI MP Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul, professor Roop Rekha Verma and TMC MP Mahua Moitra, among others.

Bano was 21 years old and five months’ pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the violence during the 2002 Gujarat riots, and her three-year-old daughter was one of the seven people killed.

The 11 men were released on August 15 after one of them, Radheshyam Shah, approached the Supreme Court in April seeking remission, arguing that they had spent over 15 years in prison in the case.

Two days after their release, Bano released a statement through her lawyer, Gupta, saying the latest development has shaken her faith in justice. She urged the Gujarat government to “undo this harm” and give her back the “right to live without fear and in peace”. The state government’s decision also sparked an outrage from civil society organisations, women rights groups, and leaders cutting across party lines.

In her petition challenging the grant of remission, Bano has contended that the gravity of the crime and the observations made by the subordinate courts about the abhorrent nature of the offences disentitled the convicts from the benefit of early release.

Her review petition, on the other hand, demanded a reconsideration of the May order of the top court which turned out to be the basis of releasing the convicts under the old policy. Bano said that the competent government to consider the convicts’ pleas for remission was the Maharashtra government and not the Gujarat government since the trial took place in Maharashtra’s Mumbai. The review petition maintained that under the Maharashtra government’s remission rules, the convicts could not be granted the benefit of early release.

Justice Rastogi’s bench was expected to hear the petitions already pending before it on Tuesday but the matter could not be taken up as the judge is a part of a five-judge constitution bench taking up a different case.

Earlier, replying to the petitions pending in the court, the Gujarat government filed its affidavit on October 17, disclosing that the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) had also approved the early release of the convicts while the state took into account their “good behaviour” as a key reason to grant them remission.

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The affidavit submitted by the state government on Monday also revealed that remission was granted in August despite objections from the trial court judge who convicted the 11 men, and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which investigated and prosecuted the case in Mumbai following the 2004 apex court order of shifting the trial outside Gujarat.

The special judge, in his opinion dated March 22, 2021, declined to sign off the remission request stressing that the crime was committed only because the victim belonged to a “particular religion”, adding the crime committed against women and children in this case were the “worst form of hate crime and crime against humanity”. CBI called the offence “heinous, grave and serious” while turning down the remission requests.

However, after the union home ministry and the relevant authorities in the Gujarat government, including the jail advisory committee, cleared the decks for the release of 11 convicts, the remission order was issued on August 10.

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