New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday listed for hearing on November 29 pleas challenging the decision of the Gujarat government to grant remission to the 11 convicts, who had gang-raped Bilkis Bano and murdered her family members during the 2002 Godhra riots.
A bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and CT Ravikumar granted time to the petitioners who challenged the remission order to respond to the affidavit filed by the Gujarat government.
During the hearing, the bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that the affidavit of the Gujarat government is very bulky.
"It is a very big reply... So many judgments in a reply. Where is the factual statement? Where is the application of mind?" the bench remarked.
The bench asked the State government to supply a copy of the affidavit to the petitioners and posted it for hearing on November 29.
Gujarat government's defense
Gujarat government on Monday defended before the Supreme Court its decision to grant remission to the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case saying remission was granted as 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 prisoners as per the policy of 1992 and remission was granted on August 10, 2022, and the Central government also approved the pre-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 the celebration of "Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav", it has said.
The affidavit 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 was found to be good." Gujarat government had granted remission to 11 convicts, who had gangraped Bilkis Bano and murdered her family members during the 2002 Godhra riots.
The State government said that in a circular dated July 9, 1992, it had issued a policy for early releasing those prisoners who have completed 14 years of imprisonment who were imposed lifeimprisonment punishment.
CBI carried the investigation
In the present case, the investigation was carried out by the CBI and the State government has obtained the approval or suitable orders of the government of India, it said.
The affidavit stated that the government of India conveyed its approval under section 435 of the CrPC for the premature release of 11 prisoners on July 11, 2022.
The government also questioned the locus standi of petitioners who filed the PIL challenging the decision saying they are outsiders to the case.
The government has said the plea is neither maintainable in law nor tenable on facts, saying that the petitioners as the third party have no locus standi to challenge the remission order.
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 had filed pleas against the release of convicts.
Supreme Court had issued notice to the government
Earlier, the top court had issued notice to the Gujarat government and convicts and sought their responses on the pleas challenging remission order.
It had also asked the State to file the entire record of the proceedings in the Bilkis Bano case, including the remission order.
The pleas had sought setting aside of order granting remission to 11 convicts and directing their immediate re-arrest.
"It is submitted that it would appear that the constitution of members of the competent authority of the Gujarat government also bore allegiance to a political party, and also were sitting MLAs. As such, it would appear that the competent authority was not an authority that was entirely independent, and one that could independently apply its mind to the facts at hand," the plea stated.
The plea 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), plea 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.