Bilkis Bano | 'Merely Because Act Was Horrific, Is Remission Wrong?': SC Poses Query, Issues Notice

"Day in and day out remission is granted to convicts of life sentence, what is the exception," Justice Rastogi asked.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on August 25 issued notice to the Gujarat government on a petition challenging the premature release of 11 convicts sentenced to life for gang-raping Bilkis Bano and killing seven of her family in 2002.

Noteworthy in Thursday’s hearing was a question posed by Justice Ajay Rastogi, who was part of the bench hearing the plea filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revathy Laul and activist Roop Rekha Rani.

“Merely because the act was horrific, is that sufficient to say remission is wrong?” Justice Rastogi asked, according to LiveLaw.

The bench was led by the Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana, and also had Justice Vikram Nath in it.

LiveLaw has reported that Justices Rastogi and Nath were part of the Supreme Court bench which ruled in May 2022 that the Gujarat government had the jurisdiction to decide on the remission of sentence in the case.

At the very beginning of the hearing, CJI Ramana sought to clarify that this May 2022 order only asked for remission to be “considered” where applicable. “I read somewhere [that the] court has granted permission for remission. No, court said only to consider,” Ramana said.

A special CBI court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, sentenced 11 men to life imprisonment on charges of gang rape and for the murder of 14 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. Among the those the convicts murdered was her three-year-old daughter.

The convicts walked out of the Godhra sub-jail after the Gujarat government approved their application for remission. The scenes of celebration involving the convicts after their release and the fact that the committee that recommended the remission had four people directly linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party, along with the policy employed to secure their release, had led to countrywide condemnation and outrage. 

“Day in and day out remission is granted to convicts of life sentence, what is the exception,” Justice Rastogi further asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was arguing for the petitioners.

As Sibal spoke of the brutal crimes committed by the convicts, the bench asked him to confine his arguments to the remission issue alone.

“Whatever they have committed, they have been convicted [for]. The question is whether they are justified in considering remission. We are only concerned if remission was in the parameters of law,” Justice Rastogi further said.

The apex court will hear the matter after two weeks.

Trinamool Congress 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.