BJP legislators C.K. Raolji and Suman Chauhan were the members of the committee headed by Godhra Collector and District Magistrate Sujal Mayatra that recommended remission of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang rape and massacre case of the 2002 riots.
The committee “unanimously” decided to recommend remission to the convicts who had already spent 14 years in jail since they were sentenced to life imprisonment in the heinous crime in 2008.
The State government accepted the recommendation of the advisory committee and allowed the remission and premature release of the convicts who were released to a hero’s welcome by their relatives as well as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), as they were felicitated with garlands and sweets on coming out of the jail.
“We felt that the convicts had already suffered enough and therefore they should be released prematurely,” said one of the members while refusing to divulge details of how many meetings were held and what aspects were considered while deciding on granting the remission.
Godhra legislator Mr. Raolji is a seasoned politician who had defected to the ruling BJP in 2017 when Shankarsinh Vaghela split the Congress during the nail-biting Rajya Sabha polls of the late Congress leader Ahmed Patel.
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A protege of Vaghela, Mr. Raolji, who served as a Cabinet Minister in the Vaghela government in the mid 1990s, was in the BJP and had walked out of the party along with Vaghela in 1996.
‘Went by the rules’
“We followed the procedure and went by the rules,” he said, when asked about how come the committee recommended the premature release of the convicts in such a grave crime.
Another legislator on the committee is Ms. Chauhan, a first-time MLA from Kalol in Godhra district. She is the daughter-in-law of former Godhra MP and former Minister Prabhatsinh Chauhan, a prominent OBC leader from the district, who has been with the every major party in the State, including the Congress, the BJP and the Janata Dal.
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Other two members of the committee are — a social worker and former Godhra municipal councillor from the BJP Murli Mulchandani and a worker with the BJP women’s wing Snehaben Bhatia.
In fact, Mr. Mulchandani was a key eyewitness in the Godhra train carnage case in which 59 pilgrims returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive by a mob near the Godhra railway station in 2002 that triggered communal riots across the State.
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His testimony identifying the culprits of the train burning case had played a crucial role in convicting the 31 accused out of which 11 were awarded the death sentence, which was later commuted to life imprisonment by the High Court.
Besides, the committee consisted of the District Social Welfare Officer, a Sessions Judge and the Superintendent of Jail while the Collector and the District Magistrate is the chairman of the committee.
The committee recommended the remission and premature release of the convicts to the State Home department, which, after “considering all aspects related to the case”, accepted the recommendation and allowed the release on August 15.