The 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 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 gang-raped 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 life imprisonment punishment.
“State Government is empowered to take the decisions on the proposal of premature release of prisoners under the provision of Section 432 and 433 of CrPC. However, considering the provision of Section 435 CrPC, it is indispensable to obtain the sanction of the government of India in cases in which the investigation of the offence was carried out by a central investigation agency. In the present case, the investigation was carried out by the CBI and the state government has obtained the approval / suitable orders of the government of India,” the affidavit said.
It further stated that all the convict prisoners have completed 14 plus years in prison under life imprisonment and opinions of the concerned authorities have been obtained as per the policy of July 9, 1992, and was submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India on June 28, 2022, and sought the approval of suitable orders of the government of India.
“The government of India conveyed the concurrence /approval of the Central Government under section 435 of the CrPC for premature release of 11 prisoners vide letter dated July 11, 2022,” it added.
The government also questioned the locus standi of petitioners who filed the PIL challenging the decision saying they were 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 parties have no locus 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.
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 was 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 petition said the case which led to the conviction of the 11 convicts was investigated by the CBI, accordingly, the grant of remission solely by the Gujarat government without any consultation with the Central government is impermissible in terms of the mandate of Section 435 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
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), the 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.