The Supreme Court on Thursday directed that the convicts in the Bilkis Bano gangrape and murder case be made party in a plea challenging the Gujarat government’s decision to grant them remission, reported Live Law.
The court has listed the matter for hearing after two weeks.
On Tuesday, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana had agreed to list the petition urgently. The plea was heard by a special three-judge bench led by Ramana, who is set to retire on Friday.
The petition challenges the premature remission of the 11 convicts who were released from a Godhra jail on August 15. The Gujarat government had relied on its remission policy of 1992 to approve the applications for early release.
At Thursday’s hearing, the Supreme Court issued notices to the respondents in the case.
Noting that it was being reported that the Supreme Court had ordered the release of the convicts, Chief Justice Ramana clarified that the court had only asked the Gujarat government to consider their remission. Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had said on Tuesday that the convicts were released following a Supreme Court order.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing one of the petitioners, told the court about the ordeal Bano and her family had to face during the riots.
“In the night of February 28 , her [Bano’s] cousin delivered a baby girl,” Sibal said. ‘On March 3, 2002, they were proceeding to a village. A group started shouting ‘Musalmano ko maaro’.[Kill the Muslims]... they had lathis and sickles.”
The court, however, asked Sibal to limit himself on the matter of remission.
“Whatever they have committed, they have been convicted,” Justice Ajay Rastogi said. “The question is whether they are justified in considering remission. We are only concerned if remission was in the parameters of law.”
Rastogi added that life sentence convicts are often granted remission and asked what the exception was in this case.
The counsel representing the convicts then pointed out that they are not made party to the case. When the court asked Sibal about it, he said that the petitioners were challenging the decision of the Gujarat government to grant remission.
“But they [the convicts] are affected,” the court said, and directed Sibal to make them party to the case.
The petition has been filed by Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Subhasini Ali, journalist Revati Laul and Professor Roop Rekha Verma.
The convicts in the case are Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana.
During the 2002 Gujarat riots, when the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power with Narendra Modi as chief minister, Bilkis Bano was gangraped and her three-year-old-daughter was among 14 members of her family killed by a mob in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district. At the time, she was 19 and pregnant.
The Supreme Court had ordered the Bilkis Bano case to be transferred from Ahmedabad to Mumbai in August 2004. In 2008, a special court in Mumbai convicted the men for rape and murder. The convicts completed 14 years in prison this year and applied for early remission.
Scroll.in learnt that the Gujarat government went against the opinion of the Mumbai trial court with its order to release the 11 convicts.
Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Raj Kumar said it chose to go with the jail advisory committee’s recommendations, ignoring trial court’s “negative opinion,” on the remission plea. The ten members of the jail advisory committee were government appointees out of which five are office bearers in the BJP, and two are currently MLAs.
The premature release of the 11 convicts has been condemned by several civil rights groups and activists. A report also found that some of the convicts had allegedly threatened witnesses in the case and attended political events when out on parole.