Supreme Court judge Justice KM Joseph on Tuesday said that it was clear that the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case were raising procedural issues in successive court hearings to avoid his bench, reported Live Law.

A division bench of Justice Joseph and Justice BV Nagarathna was hearing a batch of petitions, including one filed by Bano, against the Gujarat government’s decision to grant remission to 11 men convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for gangraping her and murdering 14 members of her family during the 2002 riots.

The convicts were released on August 15, coinciding with 75 years of India’s independence.

At Tuesday’s hearing, lawyers representing some of the convicts claimed that Bano had filed a false affidavit in court saying that they had declined to accept the notice of the case. They accused her of playing a “serious fraud” on the court since official records showed that the convicts were out of station when the postal department went to serve the notice.

Justice Joseph expressed exasperation as the counsel sought an adjournment to file their counter-affidavits in the case.

“It is clear what is being attempted here,” he remarked. “I will retire on June 16. Since that is during the vacation, my last working day is Friday, May 19. It is obvious you do not want this bench to hear the matter. But, this is not fair to me. We had made it absolutely clear that the matter will be heard for disposal. You are officers of the court. Do not forget that role. You may win a case, or lose one. But, do not forget your duty to this court.”

Justice Joseph offered to hear the case during the vacation. But Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Centre and the Gujarat government, refused to accept the suggestion.

Advocate Shobha Gupta, appearing for Bano, urged Justice Joseph to expeditiously decide the matter before his retirement. She argued that the convicts were intentionally delaying the case on administrative grounds.

Advocate Vrinda Grover also requested the court to not allow the convicts “to interrupt justice in this way”.

But the court decided to adjourn the hearing till July and asked the convicts’ lawyers to file their responses in two weeks. On May 9, the petitions will be taken up to ensure that the housekeeping formalities are completed, reported The Indian Express.

Last hearing

During the previous hearing on April 18, the division bench had asked the Gujarat government to explain the grounds on which it allowed the premature release of the convicts.

“A pregnant woman was gang-raped and several people were killed,” the bench had 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 had asked the Gujarat government whether it applied its mind while deciding on the applications for early release.

“Today it is Bilkis but tomorrow it can be anyone,” the judges had said. “If you do not show your reasons for grant of remission, then we will draw our own conclusions.”

Also read:

  1. Remission for good conduct? One Bilkis Bano convict had FIR for molestation, others violated parole
  2. Gujarat ignored trial court’s opinion as board with five BJP members set Bilkis Bano convicts free