The Supreme Court’s view that they are in contempt did not faze the Centre and Gujarat, which brought the official files concerning the remission granted to 11 life convicts in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case to the courtroom on Tuesday, only to jointly claim privilege over the contents.
Appearing before a Bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna, Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju said he had “instructions” that the Centre and the State were “considering” a review petition against a March 27 order of the top court to be “ready with the relevant files regarding the grant of remission” on April 18.
The court explained it was important for it to examine the records to see whether the State government had independently applied its mind to all the relevant factors before granting remission to 11 men sentenced to life imprisonment for the gangrape of Bilkis Bano and the “horrendous mass murder” of her family members during the 2002 riots.
“Today it is this lady, tomorrow it can be me or you... What were the standards you applied for the remission? Same standards should apply to all. What happens to my brother and sister should be of great concern to me,” Justice Joseph told Mr. Raju, appearing for both the Centre and Gujarat.
Mr. Raju said the State had indeed applied its mind, but was claiming privilege (exemption from disclosing information) for now.
“Are you saying the State government has immunity from producing the documents in court? Documents have been shown to us in even graver matters of national concern... If you cannot show reasons [for the remission], we will draw our own conclusions about your reasons... We will say your reasons do not hold water... You are in contempt... What is the reason for not showing them to the court? Why are you shying away?” Justice Joseph asked.
Justice Nagarathna reasoned that the Centre and Gujarat would anyway have to show the documents to make a case for review. Review petitions are usually filed before the same Bench whose order is under challenge.
“So why not show the files today? You will be on a better footing,” Justice Nagarathna asked.
Mr. Raju, pressing his hand on a stack of paper, said he had the files “ready” with him as directed by the court, but the Centre and Gujarat “wished” to file a review first.
“The State and Centre wish to file a review against the order directing them to be ‘ready’ with the files?” Justice Joseph asked.
The law officer later went on to change tune, saying that he had not seen the files himself. “I will consider [filing the review petition]... I have not decided to file”.
Initially in the hearing, Mr. Raju sought an adjournment citing a delay in getting the records translated from Gujarati. He also said pleadings were still incomplete in the case.
At the end of the hearing, when asked by the court when he would file the review petition, Mr. Raju said rather cryptically, “If I am there, we will file it on Monday. Otherwise, I am not there”.
The court scheduled the next hearing on May 2 for final disposal.