The Supreme Court has questioned the Gujarat Government about the reasons for its decision to allow premature release of 11 life convicts in the Bilkis Bano case.
The bench which consisted of Justice KM Joseph and Justice BV Nagarathna remarked that when remission is considered as a crime which affect the society at large, the power must be exercised keeping in mind public interest.
The bench added that just because the Central government agreed with State’s decision does not mean State is not required to apply its mind.
Justice Joseph said that the question is whether govt thought before the decision was taken? He further questioned as to what material was referred based on which the decision was taken.
The Court said that judicial order required convicts to be in jail for rest of their natural life but they were released by executive order..
The court said that, today it is this lady (Bilkis). tomorrow, it can be us. There must be objective standards.
The bench was hearing pleas that challenged the 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, for producing 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, when it will also take a decision on review petition proposed to be filed by the government against court’s order dated March 27.
ASG SV Raju appearing for both Centre and Gujarat government told the bench that he would take a call on whether to file one review petition by Monday,
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!”
Advocate Shobha Gupta submitted that nothing new had been filed therefore respondents could not cite volume of records to seek adjournment.
Justice Nagarathna said that the bench agrees that sometimes accused persons tend to indulge in delaying tactics, foe which the opposite side must be given sufficient time to respond.
Justice also said that “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.
Following which, ASG SV Raju appearing for the government suggested that a fixed date may be set for hearing.
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?.
Advocate Siddharth Luthra appearing for the respondents said that it is true that this is a grave offence, and I appreciate that…But we are also dealing with men who have been in custody for 15 yrs…”
Justice Joseph responded.”Have they been in custody for 15 yrs? More than 1000 days of parole.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.