Bilkis Bano case: SC seeks clarification from Guj govt over remission, long paroles to convicts

On August 15 last year, 11 of Bilkis Bano's rapists walked out of jail as the Gujarat government has allowed their release under its remission policy

Bilkis Bano (File Photo)
Bilkis Bano (File Photo)

Ashlin Mathew

The Supreme Court, while hearing a batch of petitions challenging the Gujarat government's decision to prematurely release 11 life convicts in the Bilkis Bano case of the 2002 riots, questioned the state about its reasons to allow the men to walk free. The case will be heard on May 2.

The bench was hearing pleas challenging premature release of the convicts, including one filed by the victim herself. The apex court had issued notices on March 27.

The bench comprising Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna wanted to know why the Gujarat government granted the 11 life convicts remission. They highlighted that when remission is considered in such heinous crimes affecting the society at large, the power must be exercised keeping in mind public interest.

“The question is whether govt applied its mind, what material formed the basis of its decision. Law is clear. Just because union has approved does not mean state not required to apply mind. If you don't give us reason, we will draw our own conclusions,” questioned the bench.

Just as the case began, the lawyers of the convicts sought more time to respond in the matter and urged the bench to adjourn the hearing.

Initially, the convicts' counsels sought more time to respond in the matter and urged the bench to adjourn the hearing. However, petitioners strongly objected to this request.

Senior Advocate AM Singhvi commented, "Every time someone seeks a date!" This led the bench to agree that the accused persons often engage in delaying tactics.

Appearing for Gujarat state and union government, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju said he would respond next week after “applying his mind”. Justice Nagarathna stated that it would be better if the government produced the files regarding decision.

“We are claiming privilege, those are my instructions. If you direct us, we will be bound to produce the files. But, a lot of the documents are in Gujarati. They need to be translated,” added Raju.

Justice KM Joseph pointed out that these 11 men were granted 1,100 days of parole, which translated into almost three years and one convict got 1,500 days parole. “What policy have you been following? Today it is this lady (Bilkis). Tomorrow, it can be you or me. There must be objective standards. You can't compare someone who has committed murder with this crime.”

Reading the order, Joseph asked both the state and union government to be ready with the files and that they had time until May 1 to file their affidavits.

On August 15, 2022, 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case walked out of jail as the Gujarat government has allowed their release under its remission policy. In May 2022, a bench comprising Justice Ajay Rastogi and Vikram Nath had ruled that the Gujarat Government had the jurisdiction to consider the remission request as the offence took place in Gujarat.

Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the riots that broke out in the aftermath of the Godhra train burning incident in Gujarat. Her three-year-old daughter was among seven family members killed at that time. The investigation in the case was handed over to the CBI and the trial was transferred to a Maharashtra court by the Supreme Court.

A special CBI court in Mumbai had on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 to life imprisonment. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.

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