Supreme Court Sets Final Hearing Date for Petitions Challenging Pre-Mature Release of Convicts in Bilkis Bano Gang Rape Case

The Supreme Court has announced that it will commence the final hearing on August 7 for a series of petitions challenging the pre-mature release of 11 convicts involved in the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of her family members during the 2002 Godhra riots. The bench, consisting of Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan, stated that the pleadings in the case have been completed and notices have been served to all the convicts. The court further allowed the parties to file their replies, written submissions, synopses, and list of dates if they wish to do so.

In its order, the bench said, “We list the matter for final hearing on August 7. All parties should file short written submissions, synopses, and list of dates.”

The court also granted permission to the convicts to file their counter affidavits regarding the petitions challenging their remission. Previously, the apex court had directed the publication of notices in local newspapers, including in Gujarati and English, for one convict who had not been served notice.

Bilkis Bano and others had approached the Supreme Court to challenge the pre-mature release of the 11 convicts. Apart from filing a petition against their release, Bano had also filed a review petition seeking a review of the court’s earlier order, in which it had asked the Gujarat government to consider the plea for remission of one of the convicts. The review petition was dismissed.

Several public interest litigations (PILs) were filed by organizations and individuals, including the National Federation of Indian Women, Subhashini Ali of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), journalist Revati Laul, social activist and professor Roop Rekha Verma, and TMC MP Mahua Moitra, seeking the revocation of the remission granted to the 11 convicts.

The Gujarat government, in its affidavit, defended the remission granted to the convicts, stating that they had completed a 14-year sentence in prison and their behavior was found to be good. The government argued that it had considered the cases of all 11 convicts in accordance with the 1992 policy, and remission was granted on August 10, 2022, with the approval of the Central government.

It is important to note that the remission was not granted under the circular governing the grant of remission to prisoners as part of the “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” celebration, according to the affidavit. The government 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 behavior was found to be good.”

The government also questioned the locus standi of the petitioners who filed the PILs, arguing that they were outsiders to the case. The petitions argued that the remission granted in this heinous case would be against public interest and would shock the collective public conscience, as well as being detrimental to the safety and well-being of the victim.

The Gujarat government had released the 11 convicts, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment, on August 15. All the convicts were released in accordance with the remission policy prevalent in Gujarat at the time of their conviction in 2008.

In March 2002, during the post-Godhra riots, Bilkis 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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