More than 130 former civil servants on Saturday wrote an open letter to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) against the premature release of 11 men who were jailed in the gangrape case of Bilkis Bano and requested him to rectify this "horrendously wrong decision".
They asked the CJI to rescind the order of remission passed by the Gujarat government and send the 11 persons convicted of gangrape and murder back to jail to serve out their life sentence.
"Like the overwhelming majority of people in our country, we are aghast at what happened in Gujarat a few days ago, on the 75th anniversary of India's Independence," it said.
Former Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung, former Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar, former foreign secretaries Shivshankar Menon and Sujatha Singh and former Home Secretary G K Pillai were among the 134 signatories to the letter, written under the aegis of the Constitutional Conduct Group.
Justice Uday Umesh Lalit was sworn in as the 49th Chief Justice of India on Saturday.
On August 25, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Centre and the Gujarat government on a plea challenging the release of the 11 convicts and posted the matter for hearing after two weeks.
The former civil servants said the release of the convicts has "outraged the nation".
"We write to you because we are deeply distressed by this decision of the government of Gujarat and because we believe that it is only the Supreme Court which has the prime jurisdiction, and hence the responsibility, to rectify this horrendously wrong decision," the letter read.
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gangraped while fleeing the riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning in 2002. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven killed.
In January 2008, a special CBI court in Mumbai sentenced the 11 to life imprisonment on charges of gangrape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano's family. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.
The former civil servants wrote, "The case was a rare one because not only were the rapists and murderers punished, but so, too, were the policemen and doctors who tried to tamper with and erase the evidence to protect the accused and cover up the crime." After serving 15 years in jail, one of the accused, Radheshyam Shah, approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release, the letter said.
The Gujarat High Court which had earlier been approached for this purpose had dismissed his plea while observing that the "appropriate government" to decide the case was that of Maharashtra and not Gujarat, it said.
Radheshyam Shah then filed a plea in the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, on Radheshyam Shah's plea, also directed that the application for premature release be considered by the Gujarat government within two months, and in terms of its policy dated 9 July 1992, it said.
"We are puzzled about why the Supreme Court saw the matter as so urgent that a decision had to be taken within two months, as also by the Supreme Court ordering that the case should be examined as per Gujarat's 1992 remission policy and not its current one," the letter said.
"In view of these glaring deviations from established law, departure from government policy and propriety, and the chilling impact that this release will have, not just on Bilkis Bano and her family and supporters, but also on the safety of all women in India, especially those who belong to minority and vulnerable communities, we urge you to rescind the order of remission passed by the Gujarat government and send the 11 persons convicted of gangrape and murder back to jail to serve out their life sentence," they wrote.