Retired judge Justice UD Salvi, who had sentenced 11 men to life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano case in 2008, on Friday said the Gujarat government’s decision to release the convicts has set a bad precedent, Bar and Bench reported.

Salvi warned that the move would have wide ramifications. “This is wrong, I would say,” he added. “Now, convicts in other gangrape cases would seek similar reliefs.”

A day earlier, Salvi told The Indian Express that it was up to the courts to decide on the Gujarat government’s decision to release the convicts.

“The judgement was delivered a long time ago,” Salvi told the newspaper. “Now it is in the hands of the government…Whether it is correct or not is for the court concerned or a superior court to see.”

The convicts were released from a Godhra jail on Monday after the Gujarat government approved their application to reduce their sentences under its remission policy.

Bilkis Bano was gangraped on March 3, 2002, during the riots in Gujarat. She was 19 and pregnant at the time. Fourteen members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter, were murdered by the rioters near Ahmedabad. One of the men snatched the girl from her mother’s arms and smashed her head on a rock.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the 2002 riots.

Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Raj Kumar had said that the government considered their remission application as the convicts had served 14 years in jail as well as due to other factors such as “age, nature of the crime, [and] behaviour in prison”.

The decision to release them was based on the recommendation of a panel formed by the Gujarat government under the guidelines of the Supreme Court. Out of the ten members of the panel, five are office bearers in the Bharatiya Janata Party. Two of them are currently MLAs, has learnt.

The decision by the Gujarat government was also against the opinion of the Mumbai trial court that had sentenced them to life imprisonment for rape and murder. The trial court had given a “negative opinion” on the remission plea, according to a member of the jail advisory committee.

Read: Gujarat ignored trial court’s opinion as board with five BJP members set Bilkis Bano convicts free

On Thursday, Salvi, who was then special judge in the Mumbai City Civil and Sessions Court, said that the one who suffers “knows it better”.

“I would only want to say that there are guidelines [on the aspect of the grant of remission], the state itself lays down these guidelines,” he told The Indian Express. “There are Supreme Court judgements on this too.”

He added that the judgement in the case can itself explain many things, including the circumstances and the way the crime took place.

“The judgement will speak for itself. The judgement, the evidence before the court, and confirmation of the judgement by the Supreme Court can be seen,” he said. “These would be before the state which has to take a complete view along with the factual scenario now and then take a decision. It cannot be seen in isolation.”

Meanwhile, former judge Justice Mridula Bhatkar of the Bombay High Court, who had upheld the conviction of the 11 convicts in the case in 2017, said that people should not blame the judiciary for the release of the convicts as it was a decision taken by the government, India Today reported.

“I don’t understand why people are protesting against the judiciary,” Bhatkar said. “Rather, the judiciary has tried its best to protect the rights of the people. We feel bad when we are criticised and we cannot defend ourselves.”

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