SC reserves verdict on Gujarat’s decision to prematurely release Bilkis Bano case convicts

Bench wrapped up arguments, especially on the point whether the State had followed uniform standards while granting early remission to the 11 men when murder convicts tend to otherwise languish in prison for years

October 12, 2023 04:59 pm | Updated 06:46 pm IST - New Delhi

Supreme Court of India.

Supreme Court of India. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its judgment on the challenge to Gujarat government’s decision to prematurely release 11 men sentenced to life for the gangrape of Bilks Bano and murder of her family during the 2002 riots.

A Bench of Justices B.V. Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan wrapped up arguments, especially on the point whether the State had followed uniform standards while granting early remission to the 11 men when murder convicts tend to otherwise languish in prison for years.

The court heard writ petitions separately filed by Ms. Bano and others, including CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali and others like TMC leader Mahua Moitra.

Ms. Bano’s lawyer, advocate Shobha Gupta, submitted that the convicts did not deserve remission for the heinous nature of their crimes.

Jurisdiction challenged

She also challenged the jurisdiction of Gujarat. She said the trial in the case had happened in Maharashtra, and the State government there was the competent authority to decide on the issue of remission.

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, A.M. Singhvi and advocate Vrinda Grover, for the other petitioners, argued that both the trial judge in Mumbai and the CBI, which was prosecuting agency, had disagreed with the proposal to release the convicts. The Centre had however endorsed the early release.

Ms. Grover said the convicts were supposed 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,  argued that Gujarat had decided the plea for early release on the basis of a Supreme Court judgment in May 2022. 

This judgment had allowed the State to consider the pleas for early release under the State’s Premature Release Policy of 1992.

The apex court had dismissed a plea to review the May 2022 judgment.

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