[Bilkis Bano Rape Case] Convicts Released For Good Behaviour, After Central Govt Approval: Gujarat Govt To Supreme Court
The Gujarat government has told the Supreme Court that it decided to release the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case on completion of their 14 years sentence as their "behaviour was found to be good" and after approval from the central government.
The government has also said that the decision was taken as per the policy dated 09.07.1992 "as directed by" the apex court and not "under the circular governing grant of remission to prisoners as part of celebration of 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav'. The government considered the opinions of seven authorities to grant the remission, it has told the apex court.
The government reply reveals that while the proposal for premature release of the convicts was opposed by the SP, Central Bureau Of Investigation, SCB, Mumbai and Special Judge (CBI), City Civil & Sessions Court, Greater Bombay, all the authorities in Gujarat gave their no objection for the release of 10 convicts. However, the premature release of prisoner Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah alias Lala Vakil was also objected to by SP Dahod and DM, Dahod - even the Additional Director General of Police, Prisons & Correctional Administration, Ahmedabad did not recommend his release.
"All the convict prisoners have completed 14+ years in the prison under life imprisonment and opinions of the concerned authorities have been obtained as per the policy of 09.07.1992 and submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India vide letter dated 28/06/2022 and sought the approval/suitable orders of the Government of India. The Government of India conveyed the concurrence/approval of the Central Government under Section 435 of the CrPC for premature release of 11 prisoners vide letter dated 11.07.2022," said the state government.
The submissions have been made in response to the petition filed by Subhashini Ali, a member of the Communist Party of India(Marxist), journalist Revati Laul and Professor Roop Rekha Verma against the pre-mature release of the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case.
"The State Government considered all the opinions and decided to release 11 prisoners since they have completed 14 years and above in prison and their behaviour was found to be good. After approval of the State government, orders have been issued on 10.08.2022 to release the prisoners. Hence, in instance case the state has considered the proposals under the policy of 1992 as directed by this Hon'ble Court and not granted under the circular governing grant of remission to prisoners as part of celebration of 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav," the state home department has told the court.
The government has said the plea is neither maintainable in law nor tenable on facts, and argued that the petitioners have no locus to challenge the remission orders.
"It is well established that a PIL is not maintainable in a criminal matter. The petitioner is in no way connected to the proceedings which either convicted the accused in question nor with the proceedings which culminated in grant of remission to the convicts," the state home department said in the reply.
Alleging that the petition has been filed "at the instance of a mere busybody which has political machinations", the government has argued that the plea is liable to be dismissed.
"A third party stranger either under the provisions of the Code or under any other statute is precluded to question the correctness of grant or refusal of 'sanction for prosecution' or the conviction and sentence imposed by the court after a regular trial, similarly a third party stranger is precluded from questioning a remission order passed by the state government which is strictly in accordance with law," the reply states.
On the petition filed by Ali and others, the Supreme Court on August 25 had issued notice to the government. The apex court on September 9 also had issued notice in the similar petitions filed by TMC MP Mahua Moitra and others against the premature release of the 11 convicts.
On August 15, 2022, all the convicts were released from a jail in Godhra, after being granted remission by the Gujarat Government. In May 2022, the Supreme Court had held that Gujarat Government was the appropriate government to consider the remission in the case and directed that the remission applications be decided within two months. The premature release of these convicts sparked a widespread outrage.
The crime, which happened during the 2002 Gujarat riots, relates to the gangrape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of 14 of her family members, including her three year old daughter in a communal attack. Bilkis was the only survivor of the crime. The investigation was handed over to the CBI and the trial was shifted from Gujarat to Maharashtra by the Supreme Court. In 2008, a sessions court in Mumbai convicted 11 persons for gangrape and murder and sentenced them to life imprisonment. The conviction was upheld by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.