Gujarat govt released Bilkis Bano case convicts in complete disregard of guidelines

In a circular on remission of prisoners as part of 'Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav' celebrations, Union Home Ministry had made it clear that states could not release prisoners convicted for certain crimes

Representative Photo (Getty images)
Representative Photo (Getty images)

NH Web Desk

The Gujarat government has released the 11 men, who were serving life imprisonment for the gangrape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of seven of her family members in the 2002 Gujarat riots, in contravention to the rules of remission specified by the BJP-led Union government. They had served 15 years.

According to a letter sent to all states on June 10, the Amit Shah-led Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) stated that states could release prisoners convicted for certain crimes who have served 50 per cent or more of their sentence as part of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav celebrations.

However, the letter specified that those serving a death sentence or the same commuted to life, those guilty of rape or child sex abuse, those convicted for dowry deaths, those sentenced under POTA, FEMA, NDPS and weapons of mass destruction and those convicted for corruption cannot be granted such remission.

The 11 convicts who were granted premature release are Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radheshyam Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandana.

Gujarat govt released Bilkis Bano case convicts in complete disregard of guidelines

Radheshyam Shah had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court seeking directions to the Gujarat government to consider his application for a premature release. This paved the way for all the 11 life sentence convicts to walk out of jail.

A special CBI court in Mumbai in January 2008 had awarded the men imprisonment after finding them guilty of committing the gang rape, a verdict later upheld by the Bombay High Court.

Twenty-one-year-old Bilkis Bano was five months pregnant when she was raped and her three-year-old daughter killed along with six others from her family on March 3, 2002. She was hiding in fields near Ahmedabad, hoping to escape the violence that erupted following the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach that killed 59 'kar sevaks' just days earlier.

The MHA letter had specified that the state government would have to place its recommendations before the Governor for consideration and approval in exercise of powers under Article 161 of the Constitution of India. Currently, Acharya Devvrat is serving as the Governor of Gujarat.

The remission was to apply to specific categories of convicted prisoners who have consistently maintained good conduct during their term in prisons, especially those with no punishment in the last three years.

According to the guidelines released by the Union government, remission can be given only to the following category of prisoners:

  • It can be given to women and transgender convicts aged 50 and above, who have completed 50% of their total sentence.

  • Physically challenged/disabled convicts with 70% disability or more who have completed 50% of their total sentence.

  • Male convicts aged 60 and above, who have completed 50% of their total sentence.

  • Poor or indigent prisoners who have completed their sentence but are still in jail due to non-payment of fine imposed on them by waiving off the fine.

  • Terminally ill convicts (duly certified by a Medical Board).

  • Persons who committed an offence between 18-21 years of age and with no other criminal involvement/case against them, who have completed 50% of their sentence (without counting the period of general remission earned).

  • Convicted prisoners who have completed two-thirds (66%) of their total sentence.

Additionally, the letter specified that state governments can exclude any offence that it would want to.

The Ministry of Home Affairs stated that a screening committee has to be formed for this purpose and it would include the additional chief secretary/principal secretary/secretary in charge of home department of state/UT as chairperson, additional chief secretary/principal secretary/secretary in charge of the department of law and justice of state/UTs as member and DG/IG prisons of the state/UT as member secretary.

Bilkis Bano's husband Yakub Rasul said the family did not want to comment on the release yet. The family continues to live without a fixed address though the Supreme Court had directed the government to provide her accommodation at a place of her choice, after noting that she had been living a nomadic life since 2002.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Gujarat’s chief minister at the time and has been accused of not acting in alacrity to stop the anti-Muslim pogrom.

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Published: 16 Aug 2022, 6:36 PM