18 April 2023 10:18 AM GMT
The Supreme Court today inquired from the Gujarat Government about the reasons behind its decision to allow premature release of 11 life convicts in the Bilkis Bano case.The bench comprising Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna said when remission is considered in such heinous crimes affecting the society at large, the power must be exercised keeping in mind public interest.It added that...
The Supreme Court today inquired from the Gujarat Government about the reasons behind its decision to allow premature release of 11 life convicts in the Bilkis Bano case.
The bench comprising Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna said when remission is considered in such heinous crimes affecting the society at large, the power must be exercised keeping in mind public interest.
It added that just because the Central government has concurred with State's decision does not mean State is not required to apply its mind.
"The question is whether govt applied its mind, what material formed the basis of its decision, etc...(Judicial) order requiring convicts to be in jail for rest of their natural life...(they were) released by executive order...Today it is this lady (Bilkis). Tomorrow, it can be you or me. There must be objective standards...If you don't give us reason, we will draw our own conclusions," Justice Joseph observed.
The bench was hearing the pleas challenging premature release of the convicts, including that filed by the victim herself. It had issued notices in the pleas on March 27.
"The law has been laid down in Venkata Reddy's case whose remission on account of him being a 'good Congressman' was set aside. Very high yardstick, even though power exists. Reasons must also be given," Justice Joseph told the respondents, asking them to produce the files. Respondents have also been asked to file their counter affidavits by May 1.
The bench has now listed the matter on May 2. The Centre and the Gujarat Government said that they are proposing to file a review against the March 27 order which directed them to produce the relevant files.
"We will take a call on whether to file one by Monday," ASG SV Raju appearing for both Centre and Gujarat government told the bench.
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. "Every time someone seeks a date!" Senior Advocate AM Singhvi submitted. Advocate Shobha Gupta submitted that nothing new had been filed therefore respondents could not cite volume of records to seek adjournment.
While the bench agreed that sometimes accused persons tend to indulge in delaying tactics, it said the opposite side must be given sufficient time to respond.
"Every time there is a hearing, one accused will come to this court & seek adjournment. Four weeks later, another accused will do the same & this will go on till December. We are aware of this strategy as well," Justice Nagarathna said.
Following which, ASG SV Raju appearing for the government suggested that a fixed date may be set for hearing.
During the hearing, the bench also perused the records of the case. It noted that virtually 3 years parole was granted to the convicts while they were serving the sentence. More than 1,000 days parole was granted to each of them; one convict got 1,500 days parole, it noted. "What policy have you been following?" it asked.
The judge said a case involving the offence of rape and mass murder cannot be compared with a case of simple murder. "Will you compare apples and oranges?" he asked.
"Your Lordships have said this is a grave offence, and I appreciate that...But we are also dealing with men who have been in custody for 15 yrs..." Advocate Siddharth Luthra appearing for the respondents submitted.
"Have they been in custody for 15 yrs? More than 1000 days of parole..." Justice Joseph responded.
In May 2022, a bench led by Justice Rastogi had ruled that the Gujarat Government had the jurisdiction to consider the remission request as the offence took place in Gujarat. The review petition filed by Bilkis Bano seeking review of this decision was dismissed by the Supreme Court in December 2022.
Meanwhile, all the eleven convicts were released on August 15, 2022 after the State Government allowed their remission applications. Visuals of the released convicts getting heroic welcome became viral in social media, leading to outcry among several sections. In this background, a bunch of PILs were filed in the Supreme Court questioning the relief granted to the convicts. Bilkis has also challenged the premature release of the convicts.
Gupta says Bilkis suffered egregious violence upon her person and her immediate family members which includes communal gang rape on her and her other female relatives, elimination of 14 members of her immediate family in front of her eyes including total of 8 minors which included her 3% years old daughter.