Supreme Court To Hear Bilkis Bano's Petition Challenging Premature Release On Convicts Sentenced For Gangrape-Murder On 13th December
The Supreme Court to hear Bilkis Bano's writ petition, challenging the premature release of 11 convicts sentenced to life imprisonment for gang rape and murder during the 2002 Gujarat riots, on 13th December, 2022 (Tuesday).
Bano has also sought a review of the Supreme Court's judgment allowing the Gujarat Government to make a decision on the remission of the convicts.
The writ petition challenging the remission is listed on Tuesday. The matter is listed before a Bench comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi and Bela M. Trivedi as item number 38. The review petition is, tentatively, to be taken up on 12th December, 2022 (Monday).
On 30th November, 2022, appearing before the CJI's Bench, Advocate Shobha Gupta, representing Bano, had mentioned the petitions. She had expressed doubt that the Bench led by Justices Rastogi (who authored the judgment under review) would be able to hear the matter, as he is in the Constitution Bench hearing. However, CJI, D.Y. Chandrachud reckoned -
"The review has to be heard first. Let it come before Justice Rastogi."
When Advocate Gupta submitted that the matter had to be heard in an open court, CJI added–
"Only the court can decide that."
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 Gujarat High Court had earlier held the remission had to be considered by the State of Maharashtra, as the trial was held in Mumbai, upon transfer from Gujarat.
Later, on August 15, 2022, all the eleven convicts were released. 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. CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul, TMC MP Mahua Moitra, former IPS officer Meeran Chadha Borwankar and few other former civil servants, National Federation of Indian Women etc.,were some of the petitioners.
Responding to the petitions, the Gujarat Government has told the Supreme Court in an affidavit that the decision was taken after the approval of the Central Government, considering the good behaviour of the convicts and the completion of 14 years sentence by them. The State's affidavit revealed that the CBI and the Presiding Judge of the Trial Court (Special CBI Court at Mumbai) objected to the release of the convicts on the ground that the offence was grave and heinous.
The annexures in the State's affidavit further showed that one of the convicts was booked for sexual harassment of a woman while he was out on parole in 2020.
Now, the victim of the crime herself has approached the Court questioning the decision to release the convicts.
The crime took place amidst the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. A five-month pregnant Bilkis Bano, who was around 19 years old then, was fleeing their village in Dahod district along with his family members. When they reached the outskirts of the Chhapparwad village Bilkis, her mother and three other women were raped and 14 of her family members, including her three-year-old daughter, were murdered. Owing to the political influence of the accused persons and given the sensitivity of the issue, the investigation was handed over to the CBI as per the directions of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also shifted the trial to Maharashtra. In 2008, a sessions court in Mumbai sentenced the accused to life imprisonment.
After serving 15 years in jail, one of the accused approached the Supreme Court with a plea of his premature release, which was earlier rejected by the Gujarat High Court on the ground that the appropriate government would be that of Maharashtra and not Gujarat.
On 13.05.2022, the Supreme Court decided that the appropriate government to grant remission would be the Gujarat Government and directed it to consider the plea within a period of two months in terms of its 1992 remission policy.