Supreme Court quashes remission granted to 11 convicts in Bilkis Bano case

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Supreme Court quashes remission granted to 11 convicts in Bilkis Bano case

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday quashed the premature release of 11 men convicted of raping Bilkis Bano and killing seven of her family members during the 2002 post-Godhra riots, saying the Gujarat government didn’t have the jurisdiction to deal with their remission pleas.

“We hold that the Government of the State of Gujarat had no competence to entertain the applications for remission or pass orders thereon,” said a Bench of Justice BV Nagarathna and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan – which had on October 12 last year reserved its verdict on petitions filed by Bano and others.

The Bench directed the 11 convicts to surrender and go back to jail, saying they can’t apply for remission afresh while on bail.

It said the “appropriate government” to consider their remission pleas was the government of Maharashtra where the trial took place. The top court declared the remission order passed by the government of Gujarat as a “nullity”, holding that the government of Gujarat usurped the powers of the government of Maharashtra in entertaining the remission pleas filed by the convicts.

“It’s not the government of the state where the offence took place or the offenders are imprisoned which is the appropriate government for remission…The government of the state where the offender is sentenced is the appropriate government to grant remission and not the government of the state where the offence took place,” it said.

“The exercise of power by the state of Gujarat is an instance of usurpation of power and abuse of power. This is a classic case where the order of this court (dated May 13, 2022) was used to violate the rule of law by granting remission,” Justice Nagarathna said, pronouncing the verdict.

“This court’s order dated May 13, 2022 is a nullity. All proceedings taken in furtherance of the judgment are also vitiated and a nullity in law,” as it was obtained by “playing fraud on the court” and by suppressing material facts. The top court had on May 13, 2022 asked the Gujarat government to consider the remission pleas of the convicts.

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It also took note of the fact that the convicts didn’t approach it with clean hands as they concealed certain information from it, including the fact that they had approached the Maharashtra government with their remission pleas.

Bilkis Bano, pregnant at the time of crime, was gang-raped and her three-year-old daughter Saleha and 13 others were killed by a mob on March 3, 2002 in Dahod during violence that broke out in Gujarat after the Sabarmati Express was attacked in Godhra and 59 ‘kar sevaks’ were burnt to death.

The 11 convicts prematurely released are Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana. They were released on August 15, 2022 due to completion of 15 years in prison, besides their age and behaviour during incarceration, it was said.

Besides the petition filed by Bilkis Bano contesting the remission granted to them, several other PILs including one by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, independent journalist Revati Laul and former vice-chancellor of Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma have challenged the remission. TMC MP Mahua Moitra has also filed a PIL against the remission.

While holding that Bano’s petition was “maintainable”, the top court refused to go into the maintainability of PILs challenging the remission of sentence of the convicts, saying the issue will be examined in “an appropriate case’ in future.

NEWS

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