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Bilkis Bano case: SC agrees to hear fresh plea against release of 11 convicts

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear the plea of a women’s organisation seeking directions to revoke the remission granted to 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 tagged the matter with the main petition pending before the apex court.

The plea was filed by the National Federation of India, whose General Secretary is Annie Raja, challenged the remission of sentence and the release of convicts in the case.

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Earlier, the top court had posted on November 29 pleas challenging the decision of the Gujarat government to grant remission to the 11 convicts.

Gujarat government in its affidavit has defended remission granted to convicts saying they completed 14 years of sentence in prison and their “behaviour was found to be good”.

The State government said it has considered the cases of all 11 convicts as per the policy of 1992 and remission was granted on August 10, 2022, and the Central government also approved the ore-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 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 which were imposed life imprisonment punishment.

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 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 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), 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.

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