Bilkis Bano case: SC adjourns to July 17 hearing of pleas against remission to convicts

The Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned to July 17 the hearing of a batch of pleas challenging the remission granted last year to all the 11 convicts in the gang-rape case of Bilkis Bano and murder of seven of her family members during the 2002 post-Godhra Gujarat riots.

A bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Prashant Kumar Mishra noted, in accordance with its May 9 order, notices have been published in local newspapers, including those in Gujarati and English, against the convicts who could not be served (the notice).

The apex court then posted the matter for hearing on July 17 due to paucity of time.

The top court had earlier ordered publication of notices in local newspapers against the convicts who could not be served notices, including the one whose house the local police found locked and his phone switched off.

The Centre and the Gujarat government had told the court they are not claiming any privilege and not filing any plea for a review of the court’s March 27 order, asking for production of the original records with regard to the remission granted to the convicts.

The Gujarat government had raised preliminary objections to the petitions filed in the matter other than the one by Bilkis Bano, saying it will have wide ramifications as every now and then third parties will approach courts in criminal cases.

On April 18, the top court had questioned the Gujarat government over the remission granted to the 11 convicts, saying the gravity of the offence should have been considered, and wondered if there was any application of mind.

Asking for the reasons for the premature release of the convicts, the top court had also questioned the frequent parole granted to them during their incarceration. “It (remission) is a kind of grace, which should be proportional to the crime,” it had said.

The Centre and the Gujarat government had then told the court that they might file a plea seeking a review of its March 27 order, asking them to be ready with the original files on the grant of remission.

The apex court had on March 27 termed Bilkis Bano’s gang- rape and the murder of her family members during the riots a “horrendous” act, and asked the Gujarat government whether uniform standards, as followed in other murder cases, were applied while granting remission to the convicts.

It had sought the responses of the Centre, the Gujarat government and others on the plea filed by Bilkis Bano, who has challenged the remission.

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All 11 convicts were granted remission by the Gujarat government and they walked free on August 15, 2022.

PILs were filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, independent journalist Revati Laul, former vice-chancellor of Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma and Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra against the release of the convicts.

Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the horror of the communal riots that broke out after the Godhra train-burning incident in which 59 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya were killed in an act of arson. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven family members killed in the riots.

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