Early Release of Bilkis Bano Convicts | Day 10: Convicts Deposit Fines After 15 Years

Early Release of Bilkis Bano Gangrape Convicts

Judges: B.V. Nagarathna J, Ujjal Bhuyan J

The hearing on the merits of the premature release of Bilkis Bano gang rape convicts continued today. Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra, representing convict Ramesh Chandana, argued against the petitioners’ grounds to challenge a writ of mandamus issued by the Supreme Court, and the right to be considered for remission. Last week, Advocate Rishi Malhotra and Senior Advocate Sonia Mathur concluded arguments on behalf of the convicts Radhe Shyam and Vipin Joshi respectively. 


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.

Convicts deposit fines to prevent “controversy” 

On 10 August, Senior Advocate Vrinda Grover, arguing for one of the petitioners, told the Court that 11 convicts had failed to pay their fines, totalling  ₹34,000. She contended that the failure to pay the fine rendered the remission illegal, and that it should amount to an additional prison sentence. Today, Luthra unambiguously announced in the Court that the fines were deposited to the trial court in Maharashtra today. That is a whole 15 years after the conviction.

Justice B.V. Nagarathna demanded to know how the convicts could deposit the fines without prior approval from the Supreme Court? Luthra revealed that an application was moved to the trial court of Maharashtra, and also to the Supreme Court. The trial court in Maharashtra permitted the application. To this, Justice Nagarathna remarked, “You asked for permission, and now without permission you have deposited.” 

Justice Nagarathna then asked whether the non-payment of fines had any “bearing on the merits of the case”. Luthra replied that it doesn’t, but the fines were paid to prevent “controversy”. Justice Nagarathna promptly responded, “Then there was no need to deposit [if it had no bearing on the case].” 

Luthra, to buttress his point that an additional sentence was not required for non-payment of a fine, relied on the Constitution Bench decision in Muthuramalingam v State Rep.By Insp.Of Police (2016) where it was held that “once a prisoner spends his life in jail, there is no question of his undergoing any further sentence.” 

Validity of the 1992 Gujarat Remission Policy cannot be challenged

A recurring issue in this matter is about the validity of the 1992 Gujarat Remission Policy. Luthra argued that it was “clear” that the 1992 Gujarat Remission policy cannot be challenged as a writ of mandamus was issued by the Supreme Court prescribing that policy. The reasoning adopted by the Supreme Court was that the 11 offenders were convicted when the 1992 Policy was in force. He referred to Hitesh v State of Gujarat (2022) where the apex court directed the application of the 1992 Gujarat Remission policy for a man convicted of murder in 2002. Luthra then referred to State of Haryana v Mahender Singh (2007) and Rashidul Jafar v State of U.P. (2022) which held that convicts have a right to be considered for remission under Articles 14, 20 and 21. These precedents held that an application for remission had to be considered on the basis of the policy that was in force when an accused was convicted by the trial court.

Heinousness of crime “not relevant” 

Luthra responded to an argument made by petitioners that the heinousness of the crime was not considered while granting remission to the 11 convicts. Luthra submitted that the “heinousness of crime” and “society’s cry for justice” are “not relevant” arguments as the convicting court awarded life imprisonment and left the option of remission open. Justice Nagarathna agreed and referred to Shraddananda’s case where the convict was ordered life imprisonment “till the last breath” because they were “conscious that remission would be applicable.” 

The Court adjourned the hearings until 14 September 2023, on which day Luthra is expected to conclude arguments.