Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to the Central and Gujarat government on hearing the plea filed by Bilkis Bano and others challenging the order of the Gujarat Government allowing premature release of 11 convicts sentenced to life imprisonment. The Apex court termed the crime committed by the convicts as “horrendous”.
A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice K M Joseph, and also comprising Justice B V Nagarathna, while posting the pleas for April 18, observed, the crime committed by the convicts as “horrendous” and said that it would not be “overwhelmed by emotions.”
“We are only on legal and law and nothing to do with emotions,” Justice Jospeh observed.
The Supreme Court even went on to observe that this was a heinous offence and for murder cases convicts are languishing in jails without remission.
The Supreme Court thereby, today, asked the Gujarat Government to apprise it and be ready with the relevant files on April 18, on the policy of remission documents.
The Apex Court wanted to know as to whether is this a case where the standards have been adopted uniformly in other cases also or not.
“No doubt this is a horrendous act. By the way does the state have a policy? any level headed policy? Because there are several people languishing in jail for so many years for murder,” the Supreme Court observed.
Senior lawyer, Kapil Sibal, appearing for one of the petitioners, said that there on public interest petitions. “We are saying grounds of remission is alien to the statute and on this ground PIL will lie and we are not seeking prosecution. This court has to now lay down the broad contours of granting remission,” Sibal said.
“This is not an ordinary case. The matter was transferred from Gujarat to Maharashtra because there was no confidence in Gujarat, and now same state is deciding remission, what is this,” Sibal questioned.
Senior Advocate Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for another petitioner said that the post release conduct of the convicts has death threat to victim which has been brushed aside by the prosecution. This is a death knell.
Rishi Malhotra, lawyer for one of the convicts, opposed the arguments of the petitioners and said that they have a detailed advisory board and they have wide variety of members from social workers to experts and the board also noted that they had good behaviour. “They underwent 15.5 years actual sentence and the requirement for remission is 14. This is more of an emotional plea than a regular plea.”
Besides filing petition against per-mature release of convicts, Bano had also filed review petition seeking review of its earlier order by which it had asked the Gujarat government to consider the plea for remission of one of the convicts.
The review petition was dismissed.
Some PILs were filed seeking directions to revoke the remission granted 11 convicts.
The pleas were filed by National Federation of Indian Women, whose General Secretary is Annie Raja, Member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul, social activist and professor Roop Rekha Verma and TMC MP Mahua Moitra.
Gujarat government in its affidavit had defended remission granted to convicts saying they completed 14 years sentence in prison and their “behaviour was found to be good”.
The State government said it has considered the cases of all 11 convicts as per the policy of 1992 and remission was granted on August 10, 2022 and Central government government also approved the ore-mature release of convicts.
It is pertinent to note that the remission was not granted under the circular governing grant of remission to prisoners as part of celebration of “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav”, the Gujarat Government had said.
The affidavit had stated, “State government considered all the opinions and decided to release 11 prisoners since they have completed 14 years and above in prisons and their behaviour wasfound to be good.”
The government had also questioned the locus standi of petitioners who filed the PIL challenging the decision saying they are outsiders to the case.
The pleas said they have challenged the order of competent authority of the government of Gujarat by way of which 11 persons who were accused in a set of heinous offences committed in Gujarat were allowed to walk free on August, 15, 2022, pursuant to remission being extended to them.
The remission in this heinous case would be entirely against public interest and would shock the collective public conscience, as also be entirely against the interests of the victim (whose family has publicly made statements worrying for her safety), pleas stated.
The Gujarat government had released the 11 convicts, who were sentenced to life imprisonment, on August 15. All the 11 life-term convicts in the case were released as per the remission policy prevalent in Gujarat at the time of their conviction in 2008.
In March 2002 during the post-Godhra riots, Bano was allegedly gang-raped and left to die with 14 members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter. She was five months pregnant when rioters attacked her family in Vadodara.