The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on Friday the two pleas challenging the release of 11 convicts in the 2002 case of Bilkis Bano’s gang-rape and murder of her seven family members during the Gujarat riots. According to the list of businesses uploaded on the apex court website, a bench of justices Ajay Rastogi and B V Nagarathna will hear the pleas filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revathy Laul and activist Roop Rekha Rani on September 9.
TMC MP Mahua Moitra has also filed a separate plea challenging the grant of remission to the convicts by the Gujarat government. Earlier on August 25, a bench headed by then Chief Justice N V Ramana (since retired) had issued notices to the Centre and the Gujarat government on the pleas a day before demitting office.
The top court had also asked the petitioners to implead all 11, who have been granted remission, as parties. Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five-month 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 11 men convicted in the case walked out free from the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy. They had completed more than 15 years in jail. Deliberating on the issue that has led to a divisive debate on relief in such heinous cases, the court had said the question is whether there was application of mind while considering remission and whether it was within the parameters of law.
“Day in day out, those who are convicted and complete their sentence, they are eligible for remission. What is the exception?" the bench had observed. Is that sufficient to say they are not entitled for remission, it had asked. On August 23, the apex court had agreed to consider listing the plea challenging the grant of remission by the state to the life convicts.
The plea referred to the sequence of events of the case recorded in judicial files and said, “It is submitted that on such facts, no right thinking authority applying any test under any extant policy would consider it fit to grant remission to persons who are found to have been involved in the commission of such gruesome acts." “It is further submitted that it would appear that the constitution of members of the competent authority of the respondent No.1 (state of Gujarat) also bore allegiance to a political party, and also was sitting MLAs. As such, it would appear that the competent authority was not an authority that was entirely independent, and one that could independently apply its mind to the facts at hand," it said and quoted media reports to buttress its contention. The apex court had earlier asked the Gujarat government to consider the plea of remission.
TMC MP Mahua Moitra has also filed a separate petition in the Supreme Court against the release of the convicts in the case. She alleged the remission “completely fails to bolster either social or human justice and does not constitute a valid exercise of the guided discretionary power of the State". The investigation in the case was handed over to the 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 to life imprisonment on charges of gang-rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.