‘How Could Bilkis Bano Convicts Be Released?’ Supreme Court Asks Gujarat Govt

New Delhi: The Gujarat government on Thursday faced some really tough questions in Supreme Court, which is hearing a batch of petitions on the premature release of men convicted for raping Bilkis Bano and slaughtering her family during the 2002 riots.

The bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan observed that the Gujarat government is on thin ice vis-à-vis the grant of premature remission release of 11 convicts on Independence Day last year.

“The convicts’ death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment. How could they be released after serving 14 years in such a situation? Why are other prisoners not given the relief of release? Why were these culprits selectively given the benefit of the policy in this case?” the judges asked.

“How far this rule — giving a chance to hardened criminals to reform — by releasing them after 14 years is being applied to other prisoners? Why is the policy being applied selectively? Opportunity to reform and reintegrate should be given to all. How far is this being implemented? Why are our prisons overflowing? Give us data,” the court said.

Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing on behalf of Gujarat government, said it was difficult to give an answer in general. He told the court that a case is pending in Supreme Court, in which all the states have to give detailed information on the matter.

He said that the convicts were released according to the law. Since they were convicted in 2008, they had to be considered under the 1992 policy, he argued.

The apex court also questioned on what basis the Jail Advisory Committee was formed for the Bilkis case convicts, and ordered the state to provide details. The two judges also asked why the opinion of Godhra court was sought despite the trial not being conducted there.

The 11 men were sentenced by a court in Maharashtra after hearing in the case was shifted from Gujarat as it was felt that a fair trial wouldn’t be possible in a state which saw widespread violence in 2002 following the death of 59 people in the burning Sabarmati Express.

Bilkis’ lawyer Shobha Gupta said that Gujarat government’s decision on the release of convicts is wrong.

“The Maharashtra state was not heard in this matter. The Centre has not even been made a party in this… Supreme Court’s order was only in relation to the application of convict Radheshyam Shah, while the Gujarat government gave exemption to all 11 convicts,” she said.

Convict Radheysham had sought remission in Supreme Court on the ground that he had completed 15 years and 4 months in jail.

Bilkis’ petition, in which she has contended she was not notified about the convicts’ release, will be heard on August 24.

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