The Supreme Court on Monday, January 8, quashed the remission of sentence and release of convicts in the case related to gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of her family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots. All the 11 convicts have been asked to surrender back to prison within two weeks. The convicts were granted remission by the Gujarat government on August 15, 2022, triggering massive outrage.
The apex court held that the state of Gujarat had no jurisdiction to pass the remission orders. The court also observed that the petition based on which the SC, in May 2022, directed the Gujarat government to grant remission was “obtained by fraud”. The court further ruled that the state of Maharashtra was the appropriate government to consider the remission applications.
The court said that the convicts filed pleas at the SC “surreptitiously” based on which the Gujarat government passed remission orders. The bench further observed that the Gujarat government was “complicit” and “acted in tandem” with the convict in misleading the court by suppressing the facts. “Use of power by Gujarat was only an usurpation of power by the state,” the court said.
The court observed that if the convicts can circumvent the consequences of their conviction, peace and tranquillity in the society will be “reduced to a chimaera”. Observing that allowing them to remain out of prison would amount to affirming invalid orders, the court has ordered the 11 convicts to surrender back to prison within two weeks.
A bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan was hearing a batch of petitions filed against the Gujarat government’s decision, which allowed early release of convicts in the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of her family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The SC heard all the parties in October 2023 and reserved its judgement.
The top court considered four questions: If the petition filed by Bilkis Bano under Article 32 is maintainable; if public interest litigations (PIL) assailing the remission order is maintainable; if the Gujarat government was competent to pass the remission orders; and if the remission orders were in accordance with the law.
Observing that the petitions in the case are liable to be allowed only on the ground that the Gujarat government lacked competence, the court, however, said that the matter did not end there. It went on to point out that the judgement which was the basis on which the SC directed the state government to pass remission orders was by “making misleading facts”.
In May 2022, one of the convicts in the case – Radhesyam Bhagwandas – approached the SC seeking premature release. The SC said that the state of Gujarat was the "appropriate government'' which is competent to examine his application. It was following this order that the remission orders were passed.
However, the SC, on Monday, said that the convict had approached Gujarat HC with the same application, which said that the Maharashtra government should decide. Following this, he approached the Bombay HC, which also dismissed his plea. However, he did not disclose this fact while approaching the SC in May 2022. “By suppressing material facts and making misleading facts, a direction was sought by the convict to the State of Gujarat to consider remission,” the court said.
The Gujarat government released 11 convicts under the state's remission policy on August 15, 2022, after they completed more than 15 years in jail. PILs were filed challenging the remission orders by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra, the National Federation of Indian Women, Asma Shafique Shaikh and others against the remission orders.
Apart from the gangrape, 11 were convicted in the killing of seven of Bano's family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Bano was gangraped while fleeing the riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven of her family who were killed.