Early Release of Bilkis Bano Convicts Day #2Early Release of Bilkis Bano Gangrape Convicts
Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna continued hearing the challenges to the early release of the 11 men convicted of gangraping Bilkis Bano and murdering her family. The Bench intended to start hearing arguments in the case today. However, the lawyers for the 11 men raised heated objections regarding the improper service of notice to some of the respondents. The Bench will hear the case on May 9th for directions and hear arguments after the summer vacation.
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.
Respondents: Petitioners ‘Played Fraud’ on the Court in their Affidavit
Advocate Shobha Gupta (representing Ms. Bano), submitted in her affidavit that she completed service of notice to all of the respondents in the case. However, one of the Respondents claimed that his client, one of the 11 released convicts never received the notice. Further, he claimed that the affidavit stated his client ‘refused’ the service of notice when he had, in fact, been out of town at the time. He asked for time to file a counter-affidavit against the petitioners, claiming the petitioners committed fraud. Throughout, Adv. Gupta maintained that she had completed the service of notice in the proper manner.
The petitioners accused the respondents of employing delaying tactics so that the case would be heard after Justice Joseph retires in June. In response to a suggestion from Sr. Adv. Indira Jaising, the Bench stated that they would be willing to sit and hear the case during the summer vacation. The respondents and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta (representing the Union and the State of Gujarat) however, requested the Bench not to hear the case during the vacation months and Justice Joseph acceded, stating the Court could not compel anyone to appear during vacations.
The Bench intended to push through the procedural objections and finally begin hearing the case today. The respondents however, did not relent and pointed out that service was not completed for some of the respondents. In fact, some of the convicts were not represented by advocates at all in the hearing.
Before finally granting the respondents request for more time, the Bench asked Mr. Mehta to clarify the Union’s stance after the previous hearing (April 18th, 2023). Mr. Mehta informed the Bench that they will not be filing a review petition against the Order demanding the material with reasons for remission. Further, neither the Union nor the State government was claiming executive privilege for said material.
The Bench posted the matter for hearing on May 9th, 2023. A new Bench will have to be constituted as Justice K.M. Joseph will retire on June 17th, 2023.