New Delhi: A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana Thursday issued a notice on a petition challenging the order of the Gujarat government granting remission to 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case.
The court asked the petitioners to make the convicts party in the plea along with the Gujarat government.
The bench observed verbally: “Whatever act was committed, the accused have been punished and convicted. The question is whether they could have been granted remission and if it was within the parameters of the law.”
The bench also turned down 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 convicts were sentenced to life term in prison by a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai in 2008 for the gangrape and the murder of several members of Bilkis Bano’s family during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The sentence was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.
On a petition by one of the accused, the Supreme Court had in May this year directed the Gujarat government to consider the petitioner’s application for premature release.
It was clarified by the top court that the remission would be under the 1992 policy and not the current one brought into force in 2014. As per the SC order, the 1992 policy was prevalent on the date of conviction, hence, the convict would be eligible to receive the benefit under the same.
While the 1992 policy did not have any exceptions, the 2014 policy does. It expressly bars the government from granting remission, or premature release, to prisoners convicted for a crime that was investigated by the CBI, and prisoners convicted for murder with rape or gang rape.
This means the 11 convicts would not have been eligible for remission under the new policy.
However, according to the petitioners in SC, the release is also contrary to Union of Home Ministry’s latest guidelines on remission. The petitioners claim the state could not have allowed the convicts’ premature release without consulting the Centre.
The petition filed by Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) Politburo member Subhashini Ali, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, independent journalist and filmmaker Revati Laul and former philosophy professor and activist Roop Rekha Verma was mentioned before CJI’s bench Tuesday.
CJI Ramana had agreed to list the matter for an urgent hearing after submissions were made by senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Singhvi, and Aparna Bhat.
The 11 convicts were released on Independence Day under the Gujarat government’s 1992 remission policy, sparking a public outcry. Bilkis Bano, who had received compensation of Rs 50 lakh, a job and a house on the directions of the Supreme Court in 2019, complained that the Gujarat government never reached out to her before granting remission to the convicts.
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)
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