The Supreme Court on March 27 indicated it will primarily focus on the question of Gujarat’s jurisdiction to prematurely release 11 men sentenced to life for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of her family during the 2002 riots.
A Bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna wondered whether the State followed uniform standards while granting early remission to the 11 men when murder convicts tend to otherwise languish in prison for years.
The court was hearing writ petitions separately filed by Ms. Bano and others, including CPI (M) leader Subhashini Ali and Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra.
The Court issued formal notice to Gujarat, the Union government and released convicts in a preliminary hearing. It listed the case for final hearing on April 18.
Advocate Shobha Gupta, for Ms. Bano, submitted that the jurisdiction to consider any plea for premature release was with Maharashtra and not Gujarat.
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She referred to Section 432(7)(b) which said the “appropriate government” would be the “State within which the offender is sentenced”.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and A.M. Singhvi and advocate Vrinda Grover, for other petitioners, argued that both the trial judge in Mumbai and the CBI, which was the prosecuting agency, had disagreed with the proposal to release the convicts. The Union Government had, however, endorsed the early release.
Ms. Grover said the convicts had to pay a fine of ₹34,000 or face 34 years in prison. “The fine has not been paid. That sentence was never served,” she submitted.
The counsel for one of the convicts, advocate Rishi Malhotra, said the other petitioners were third parties who had no locus standi in the case. However, the court had earlier made it clear that the question of locus standi of the third parties did not arise anymore as Ms. Bano herself had approached the court against the release.
Mr. Malhotra also argued that Gujarat had decided the plea for early release on the basis of a Supreme Court judgment in May 2022. This judgment allowed the State to consider the pleas for early release under the State’s Premature Release Policy of 1992.
Incidentally, the top court recently dismissed a petition filed by Ms. Bano to review the May 2022 judgment.