Supreme Court judge, Justice Bela M. Trivedi, on December 13, 2022 recused herself from hearing a writ petition filed by Bilkis Bano against a Gujarat government decision to prematurely release 11 men sentenced to life imprisonment for gang-raping her during the 2002 riots.
Justice Ajay Rastogi, who led the Bench, said the writ petition would be returned to the Chief Justice of India to be listed before another Bench of the apex court.
Justice Trivedi hails from Gujarat. She started her judicial career in the district judiciary in 1995. Justice Trivedi had worked in different posts like Registrar — Vigilance in the High Court, Law Secretary in the Gujarat government, CBI court judge, Special Judge, etc. She was elevated as a Gujarat High Court judge in February 2011.
A review petition of Ms. Bano was also listed on Tuesday for a decision via circulation by a Bench led by Justice Ajay Rastogi. Ms. Bano has sought a review of a Supreme Court judgment of May 2022. The judgment had paved the way for the Gujarat government to consider and release 11 convicts serving life sentence in her case under the State’s Premature Release Policy of 1992.
In her writ petition, Ms. Bano, through advocate Shobha Gupta, has argued that the early release of the convicts amounted to a violation of her fundamental right to life. She has said the remission policy of the State of Maharashtra, where the trial happened, and not Gujarat would have governed the case.
Others like CPI (M) leader Subhashini Ali and others like TMC leader Mahia Moitra have also challenged the early release of the convicts. Their petitions were last heard by Justice Rastogi’s Bench on October 18. The court had then given petitioners time to respond to a Gujarat government affidavit which showed that the Special Judge and the CBI in Mumbai had opposed the premature release of the 11 convicts.
The affidavit by the State of Gujarat had revealed that while the Superintendent of Police, CBI, Special Crime Branch, Mumbai and the Special Judge (CBI) of Greater Bombay opposed the premature release all the authorities in Gujarat and the Home Ministry recommended their release.
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“All the prisoners have completed 14 plus years in the prison under life imprisonment and opinions of the authorities concerned have been obtained as per the premature release policy of 1992 and submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs vide letter dated June 28, 2022 and sought the approval of the Government of India. The Government of India conveyed the concurrence/approval of the Central government under Section 435 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for premature release of 11 prisoners in a letter on July 11, 2022,” the 57-page affidavit had said.
The State had clarified that, contrary to popular perceptions, the early release of the 11 convicts was not as per a circular allowing remission to prisoners as part of the celebration of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’.
The State government had maintained that it followed the 1992 Premature Release Policy. The remission was granted on August 10, 2022.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for Gujarat, and advocate Rishi Malhotra, for the accused, had both challenged the locus standi of “third party petitioners” to challenge the premature release”. They had dubbed the petitioners as “interlopers”.