Early Release of Bilkis Bano Convicts #3: Public Notice to be Served in Gujarati NewspaperEarly Release of Bilkis Bano Gangrape Convicts
Judges: K.M. Joseph J, B.V. Nagarathna J, Ahsanuddin Amanullah J
The Bench finally brought an end to the saga of procedural issues that have plagued this case since April 18th. One of the respondents, Pradeep Ramanlal Modhiya, has been unreachable despite numerous attempts to contact and serve notice upon him. The Bench directed a public notice to be published in a Gujarati newspaper so that arguments in the case can finally be heard in July, after the summer vacation. A new Bench will have to be constituted as Justice K.M. Joseph in retiring on June 17th, 2023.
During the Gujarat riots in March 2002, Ms. Bano and her family were fleeing from their home in Radhikpur village to Chapparwad village. However, before reaching they were ambushed by a group of men who gangraped Ms. Bano and murdered 14 of her family members including her infant daughter.
Ms. Bano approached the Supreme Court and in December 2003 the Court order the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate her allegations. The case was transferred to a special CBI Court in Bombay and in 2008 the Court imposed life sentences on 11 of the accused.
In May 2022, the SC Ordered the Gujarat State government to consider a request for remission made by one of the 11 convicts, under the 1992 remission policy. In August 2022, the Gujarat government granted the early release of all 11 convicts under the 1992 policy and publicly stated that they were released on ‘good behaviour’. However, this claim has been widely contested. Many allegations have been made claiming that many of the convicts violated their parole, made death sentences against Ms. Bano and her family, and had pending criminal cases against them for crimes committed while they were out on parole.
Ms. Bano and a host of other petitioners challenged the early release of the 11 convicts. They claimed that the Gujarat government should never have released them under the 1992 policy. The gravity of the offence should preclude any early release and further, none of the convicts had served the minimum sentence required to be considered under the 1992 policy.
Notice Affixed to Door Constitutes Valid Service
Advocate Shobha Gupta, representing Ms. Bano, informed the Court that the Gujarat police resorted to pasting the notice on Mr. Modhiya’s locked door. Numerous attempts were made to contact him on his phone. However, it was switched off and, adding to the issues, his family refused to accept the notice on his behalf. Neither did his family share any information on his location.
The counsels for the other respondents objected to this manner of serving notice. They said this method is only acceptable in criminal cases under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, (CrPC) not in a writ petition. Despite representing the respondent Gujarat government, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta disagreed on this issue. He stated that this was a perfectly acceptable way of serving notice and the Bench could list the case for arguments. On its part, the Bench pointed out that this case was a criminal writ petition and the CrPC is applicable.
The Bench asked if anyone was appearing to represent Mr. Modhiya. An advocate named Vishnukanth, who is representing Mr. Modhiya in a separate matter, appeared briefly to inform the Court that he was not representing him in this case. He had not received any instructions to represent Mr. Modhiya in this case.
Finally, the Bench accepted a suggestion made by Sr. Adv. Indira Jaising. A public notice will be published in a Gujarati newspaper in both English and Gujarati. Arguments in the case were scheduled for July, after the SC summer vacation.