SC dismisses Bilkis Bano’s review plea challenging release of 11 convicts

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has dismissed a plea filed by Bilkis Bano seeking a review of its May 13 verdict by which it had said the state of Gujarat was the “appropriate government” competent to examine the application for the pre-mature release filed by a convict in the gang-rape and murder case.

Bano’s separate petition challenging the remission of the sentences of the 11 convicts by the state government is pending before the Supreme Court. She was gang-raped and seven members of her family were killed during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

In its May 13 order, the apex court had asked the state government to consider the plea of a convict for pre-mature release in terms of its policy of July 9, 1992, which was applicable on the date of conviction, and decide it within a period of two months.

All the 11 convicts were granted remission by the Gujarat government and released on August 15.

Bano’s plea seeking review of the May 13 order came up for in-chamber consideration on December 13 before a bench of justices Ajay Rastogi and Vikram Nath.

“In our opinion, there appears no error apparent on the face of record, which may call for review of the judgment dated May 13, 2022 and as regards the judgments on which the reliance has been placed, none of the judgments are of any assistance to the review petitioner,” the bench said in its order which was uploaded on the top court website on Saturday.

“In our opinion, no case for review is made out. The review petition is accordingly dismissed,” it said, while also rejecting the application for listing in the open court.

According to procedures, review pleas against apex court judgments are decided in chambers by circulation by the judges who were part of the judgment under review.

The gang-rape survivor had sought a review of the top court’s May 13 order on a plea moved by one of the convicts.

Earlier in the day, Bano’s counsel Shobha Gupta said they would decide the future course of action after perusing the order of the apex court.

“….we were seeking review of that order because of the legality aspect. But remission, the legality, the correctness of remission is still open for discussion. There is no setback when it comes to merit to be tested of the remission order and whether the state of Gujarat could have taken it,” she said.

“The issue completely remains open, no setback on the merit of the case. Only one petition on the legal aspect has been dismissed,” Gupta said.

Apart from the review plea, Bano has also filed a separate petition in the top court, challenging the remission of the sentences of the 11 convicts by the state government, saying their premature release has “shaken the conscience of the society”.

Bano was 21 years old, and five months pregnant, when she was gang-raped while fleeing the riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven family members killed.

The review plea had said Bano was not made a party to the petition filed by the convict, who along with others was released under the state’s remission policy, which is not in force.

“In view of the development that the policy dated July 9, 1992 stood cancelled vide circular dated May 8, 2003 of State of Gujarat, it was necessary to be examined whether still the policy dated July 9, 1992 would be the relevant policy for remission application of the convicts to be considered, if at all the State of Gujarat is the appropriate government under section 432, CrPC,” the plea had said.

On December 13, Bano’s separate plea challenging the remission of the sentences of the 11 convicts came up for hearing before a bench of justices Ajay Rastogi and Bela M Trivedi.

Justice Trivedi recused herself from hearing the plea.

“List the matter before a bench in which one of us is not a member,” the bench had said, without specifying any reason for Justice Trivedi’s recusal.

In her petition against the grant of remission, Bano has said the state government passed a mechanical order, completely ignoring the requirement of law as laid down by the Supreme Court.

“The en-masse premature release of the convicts in the much talked about case of Bilkis Bano has shaken the conscience of the society and resulted in a number of agitations across the country,” this plea says.

Referring to various Supreme Court verdicts, the petition says en-masse remissions are not permissible and, moreover, such a relief cannot be sought or granted as a matter of right, without examining the case of each convict individually on the basis of their peculiar facts and the role played by them in the crime.

“The present writ petition challenges the decision of the state/central government granting remission to all the 11 convicts and releasing them prematurely in one of the most gruesome crimes of extreme inhuman violence and brutality by a group of human beings upon another group of human beings, all helpless and innocent people — most of them were either women or minors — by chasing them for days together, persuaded by hate towards a particular community,” it said.

The apex court is already seized of the PILs filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul, former vice-chancellor of the Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma and Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra against the release of the convicts.

The investigation in the case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the trial was transferred to a Maharashtra court by the Supreme Court.

A special CBI court in Mumbai had, on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 convicts to life imprisonment on the charges of gang-rape of Bano and murder of the seven members of her family.

Their conviction was subsequently upheld by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.

The 11 men convicted in the case walked out of the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy. They had spent more than 15 years in jail.

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