The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Gujarat government to explain the grounds on which it allowed the premature release of 11 men convicted for gangraping Bilkis Bano and murdering 14 persons, reported PTI.

A bench comprising Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna made the observation while hearing a batch of petitions, including one filed by Bano herself, challenging the Gujarat government’s decision to grant remission to the 11 convicts.

“A pregnant woman was gang-raped and several people were killed,” the bench noted. “You cannot compare victim’s case with standard Section 302 [murder] cases. Like you cannot compare apples with oranges, similarly massacre cannot be compared with single murder. Crimes are generally committed against society and the community. Unequals cannot be treated equally.”

The court asked the Gujarat government whether it applied its mind while deciding on the convicts’ applications for early release. “Today it is Bilkis but tomorrow it can be anyone,” the court said...If you do not show your reasons for grant of remission, then we will draw our own conclusions.”

Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for both the Centre and the Gujarat government, told the court that he may file a plea seeking a review of a Supreme Court order from March 27, PTI reported. On that day, the court had told the Gujarat government to be ready with original files on the grant of remission to the convicts.

Following this, the division bench remarked that the government’s stance amounted to contempt of court, since it had not yet filed a review against the court order but was still not producing the files, reported Bar and Bench.

“What is the problem in showing us [the files] today,” the court asked. “You are in contempt for not producing it. Why are you shying away? You did not file a review; we never stopped you.”

The division bench also noted that merely because the Centre had concurred with the Gujarat government’s stand, it did not mean that the state did not have to apply its mind.

The case will be heard next on May 2.

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.

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

The development came after the Supreme Court had held in May 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.