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Setback for Bilkis Bano: SC dismisses plea seeking review of its earlier order of releasing 11 convicts

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Bilkis Bano Supreme Court Gujrat Riots
Image: PTI

The Supreme Court has dismissed a plea filed by Bilkis Bano, seeking a review of its order passed in May by which it had asked the Gujarat government to consider a petition for the remission of the sentences of 11 convicts in the gang-rape case.

Bano was gang-raped and seven members of her family were killed during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

According to procedures, review pleas against apex court judgments are decided in chambers by circulation by the judges who were part of the judgment under review.

Bano’s review plea came up for in-chamber consideration on December 13 before a bench of justices Ajay Rastogi and Vikram Nath.

”I am directed to inform you that the review petition above mentioned filed in Supreme Court was dismissed by the court on December 13, 2022,” read a communication sent to Bano’s counsel Shobha Gupta by the apex court’s assistant registrar.

The gang rape survivor had sought a review of the top court’s May 13 order on a plea moved by one of the convicts.

The apex court had asked the state government to consider the plea for a premature release of the convict in terms of its policy of July 9, 1992, about taking a decision on a remission petition within a period of two months.

All 11 convicts were granted remission by the Gujarat government and released on August 15.

Gupta told PTI that the order on the review petition is yet to be uploaded on the Supreme Court’s website.

”The order has not been uploaded yet. After perusing the order, we will decide the future course of action,” she said on being asked about whether Bano would file a curative petition.

Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven family members killed.

The review plea had said Bano was not made a party to the petition filed by the convict, who along with others was released under the state’s remission policy, which is not in force.

”In view of the development that the policy dated July 9, 1992, stood cancelled vide circular dated May 8, 2003, of State of Gujarat, it was necessary to be examined whether still the policy dated July 9, 1992, would be the relevant policy for remission application of the convicts to be considered if at all the State of Gujarat is the appropriate government under section 432, CrPC,” the plea had said.

Apart from the review plea, Bano has also filed a separate petition in the top court, challenging the remission of the sentences of the 11 convicts by the state government, saying their premature release has ”shaken the conscience of the society”.

On December 13, Bano’s plea challenging the remission of the sentences of the 11 convicts came up for hearing before a bench of justices Ajay Rastogi and Bela M Trivedi.

Justice Trivedi recused herself from hearing the plea.

”List the matter before a bench in which one of us is not a member,” the bench had said, without specifying any reason for the recusal of Justice Trivedi.

In her petition against the grant of remission, Bano has said the state government passed a mechanical order, completely ignoring the requirement of law as laid down by the Supreme Court.

”The en-masse premature release of the convicts in the much talked about the case of Bilkis Bano has shaken the conscience of the society and resulted in a number of agitations across the country,” the plea says.

Referring to various Supreme Court verdicts, the petition says en-masse remissions are not permissible and, moreover, such a relief cannot be sought or granted as a matter of right, without examining the case of each convict individually on the basis of their peculiar facts and the role played by them in the crime.

”The present writ petition challenges the decision of the state/central government granting remission to all the 11 convicts and releasing them prematurely in one of the most gruesome crimes of extreme inhuman violence and brutality by a group of human beings upon another group of human beings, all helpless and innocent people — most of them were either women or minors — by chasing them for days together, persuaded by hate towards a particular community,” it said.

The apex court is already seized of the PILs filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul, former vice-chancellor of the Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma and Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra against the release of the convicts.

The investigation in the case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the trial was transferred to a Maharashtra court by the Supreme Court.

A special CBI court in Mumbai had, on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 convicts to life imprisonment on the charges of gang rape of Bano and murder of the seven members of her family.

Their conviction was subsequently upheld by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.

The 11 men convicted in the case walked out of the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy. They had spent more than 15 years in jail.

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