Close to 10 days after 11 life convicts of Bilkis Bano gangrape case walked free, the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to consider listing a plea challenging their grant of remission by the Gujarat government.
The remission and consequent release of 11 convicts on August 15 this year from Godhra sub-jail under the Gujarat government’s remission policy has sparked a debate on the issue of such relief in heinous cases.
A bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices Hima Kohli and C T Ravikumar took note of the submissions of senior advocate Kapil Sibal and lawyer Aparna Bhat against the grant of remission to the convicts serving life imprisonment in the sensational post-Godhra riots case.
“We are only challenging the remission and not the Supreme Court order. The Supreme Court order is fine, My Lords. We are challenging the principles on the basis of which remission was granted,” Sibal said while seeking an urgent hearing of the plea.
Bhat also said that the apex court’s earlier order asking the state government to consider the remission aspect was not challenged.
The lawyers were seeking an urgent hearing of the plea filed by CPI (M)leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revathy Laul and activist Roop Rekha Rani.
The plea referred to the sequence of events of the case recorded in judicial files and said, It is submitted that on such facts, no right thinking authority applying any test under any extant policy would consider it fit to grant remission to persons who are found to have been involved in the commission of such gruesome acts.
It is further submitted that it would appear that the constitution of members of the competent authority of the Respondent No.1 also bore allegiance to a political party, and also was sitting MLAs. As such, it would appear that the competent authority was not an authority that was entirely independent, and one that could independently apply its mind to the facts at hand, it said and quoted media reports to buttress its contention.
The apex court had earlier asked the Gujarat government to consider the plea of remission.
Besides, TMC MP Mahua Moitra has also filed a separate petition in the Supreme Court against the release of the convicts in the case alleging the remission completely fails to bolster either social or human justice and does not constitute a valid exercise of the guided discretionary power of the State .
The 11 convicts walked out of the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy. They had completed more than 15 years in jail.
The investigation in the case was handed over to the CBI and the trial was transferred to a Maharashtra local court by the Supreme Court.
A special CBI court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 to life imprisonment on charges of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the violence that broke out after the Godhra train burning. Among those killed was her three-year-old daughter.
The state had witnessed riots after the Sabarmati Express was attacked in Godhra and 59 passengers, mainly ‘kar sevaks’, were burnt to death.
(With PTI inputs)