On this Independence Day of India i.e., 15th August, 2022 when everyone was celebrating the “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav”, the government of Gujarat released all the 11 convicts of horrific 2002 Godhra riots and Bilkis Bano gangrape case.
The convicts were serving the sentence of life imprisonment for the last 14 years, after which one of them pleaded for the remission in the Supreme court in April 2022. They were released by the Gujarat Government under an outdated remission policy. The remission and release of the convicts sparked a debate on the issue of such relief in one of the heinous case of history.
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana, Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Vikram Nath was hearing the petition filed by CPI (M) MP Subhasini Ali, TMC MP Mahua Moitra and Professor Roop Rekha Verma. The bench agreed to hear the petition after submissions by the senior advocate Kapil Sibal (appearing for Subhasini Ali) and Abhishek Singhvi (appearing for Mahua Moitra) and Lawyer Bhat.
In the hearing the bench posed a query with respect to the legal bar on grant of remission to the convicts. The court has asked the state to file its reply and listed the matter after two weeks.
The SC said “the question is, under Gujarat rules, are the convicts entitled to remission or not? We’ve to see whether there was application of mind in this case while granting remission”. The court also added that it didn’t order for their release but only asked the state to consider remission as per the policy. As the CJI said “I read somewhere the Court has granted permission for remission. No, the court said only to consider”.
During the hearing the counsel of Gujarat government opposed the plea challenging remission on the grounds of maintainability by saying “Writ is not maintainable. They are strangers” which means that the petitioner is not a party to the present case and hence the plea is not maintainable. The top court also asked petitioners to implead Gujarat government as party to the case.
Justice Rastogi asked the senior advocate Kapil Sibal “Merely because the act was horrific, is that sufficient to say remission is wrong”. He also asked that “Day in and out remission is granted to convicts of life sentence, what is the exception (in this case)”.
Further he said “Whatever they have committed, they have been convicted. The question is whether they are justified in considering remission. We are only concerned if remission was in the parameters of law”.
After the release of all the 11 convicts the muslim villagers of Randhikpur village in Gujarat’s Dahod district where Bilkis Bano was gangraped and seven members of her family killed during the 2002 riots, have started leaving the village.
One resident of the village claimed that the muslim people of the village are terrified and concerned for their safety especially the women. Many of the families have left the village and moved to their relative’s houses.
A memorandum was reportedly handed over to the Dahod district collector on Monday in which villagers spoke about fear saying many residents of Randhikpur are moving out while discontinuing their daily job and said they will not return until the 11 convicts of Bilkis Bano gangrape get arrested.
The higher police officials said that they have deployed the police in the concerned place and ordered for regular patrolling for the safety of the villagers.
However the Dahod Superintendent of Police said that the 11 convicts belonged to Singvad village, near Randhikpur but they are not present there.