The Supreme Court on Monday asked whether uniform standards were followed while allowing premature release of 11 men convicted for the gangrape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of 14 persons during the 2002 Gujarat riots, Live Law reported.

The court was hearing a batch of petitions challenging the Gujarat government’s decision to grant remission to the 11 convicts.

One of the petitions has been filed by Bano herself, while the other petitions have been filed by Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Subhasini Ali, journalist and filmmaker Revati Laul as well as Professor Roop Rekha Varma.

On Monday, Advocate Rishi Malhotra, representing the convicts, told the court that they had spent 15-and-a-half years in jail. He added that under the remission policy applicable in the case, prisoners needed to have completed 14 years’ imprisonment to be considered for early release.

“No one raised a hue and cry when they were in jail,” Malhotra said. “And they served the entire sentence. Emotional plea is not a legal plea.”

A bench headed by Justice KM Joseph said that the crime against Bano and her family was horrendous but it would hear the case on the basis of law and not emotions. “We have before us many murder cases where convicts are languishing in jails for remission without years,” Justice Joseph said. “Is this a case where standards have been applied uniformly as in other cases too?”

Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for one of the petitioners, said that the convicts had not paid a total fine of Rs 34,000 that had been imposed by the court. She added that the court had directed that if the convicts were to not pay the fine, they would have to serve a total of 34 years in prison.

“It is undisputed that fine is not paid and in default there is 34 years sentence to be served,” Grover said, according to Bar and Bench. “.. Then how has remission been granted at all?”

The court subsequently asked the lawyers for all the parties to the case to complete their pleadings, or written statements presenting their case, by the next hearing. The bench also told the Gujarat government to be ready with files related to the remission order.

The case will be heard next on April 18.

The case

Bilkis Bano was gangraped in a village near Ahmedabad on March 3, 2002, during the communal riots in Gujarat. She was 19 and pregnant at the time. Fourteen members of her family were also killed in the violence. Among the dead was her three-year-old daughter whose head was smashed against the ground by the attackers.

Eleven convicts in the case were released on August 15 from a Godhra jail after the Gujarat government approved their application under its remission policy.

This was after the Supreme Court held that the Gujarat government had the jurisdiction to decide on remission as the crime took place in that state. It overturned a verdict of the Gujarat High Court saying that the Maharashtra government had the authority to decide on remission, as the trial was held in Mumbai.