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Bilkis Bano case: SC seeks original records related to remission granted to convicts from Centre, Gujarat Govt

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Centre and Gujarat government to submit the original records related to the remission granted to 11 convicts who had allegedly gang-raped Bilkis Bano and murdered her family members during the 2002 Godhra riots.

A bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan while reserving its order on a batch of pleas filed against the remission granted to 11 convicts also asked the government of Centre and Gujarat to submit original records by October 16.

"We have heard counsels appearing for petitioners in so far as reply arguments are concerned. We have asked counsel for the Gujarat government to submit original records. It is submitted that since the original records are in Gujarati and therefore, English translations will be filed along with the original records by Monday. Union of India is also to submit original records on Monday. Judgment reserved," the bench said.

During the hearing, advocate Shobha Gupta, appearing for Bilkis, said that punishment imposed on Bilkis' rapists ought to be proportional to the nature and seriousness of the crime they had committed - which included 14 murders and three gang-rapes.
She argued that government did not consider the societal impact of prematurely releasing Bilkis's rapists, nor did it consider a host of other relevant factors that they were required to under the law. Gupta said 'leniency' was shown by the Gujarat government towards the convicts.
Additional Solicitor General SV Raju appearing for the Gujarat government had reiterated before that all necessary compliances had been done before granting the remission.

Advocate Rishi Malhotra, appearing for one of the convicts, told the bench that the scheme of the 1992 Gujarat remission policy did not require a unanimous or majority decision, but only a collation of the views of various stakeholders.
Earlier, the apex court queried the Gujarat and Central governments about the selective application of the pre-mature release policy for the remission of convicts who are serving jail terms.

It was observed that the opportunity to reform and reintegrate into society should be given to every eligible convict.
Bilkis Bano and others had approached the top court challenging the premature release of 11 convicts.
Some PILs were filed seeking directions to revoke the remission granted to 11 convicts.
The pleas were filed by the National Federation of Indian Women, whose General Secretary is Annie Raja, Member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul, social activist and professor Roop Rekha Verma and TMC MP Mahua Moitra.
Gujarat government in its affidavit had defended remission granted to convicts saying they completed 14 years of sentence in prison and their "behaviour was found to be good".

The State government had said it has considered the cases of all 11 convicts as per the policy of 1992 and remission was granted on August 10, 2022, and the Central government also approved the release of convicts.
It is pertinent to note that the remission was not granted under the circular governing grant of remission to prisoners as part of the celebration of "Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav", it had said.

The affidavit stated, "State government considered all the opinions and decided to release 11 prisoners since they have completed 14 years and above in prisons and their behaviour was found to be good."
The government had also questioned the locus standi of petitioners who filed the PIL challenging the decision saying they are outsiders to the case.

The pleas said they have challenged the order of competent authority of the government of Gujarat by way of which 11 persons who were accused in a set of heinous offences committed in Gujarat were allowed to walk free on August 15, 2022, pursuant to remission being extended to them.

The remission in this heinous case would be entirely against public interest and would shock the collective public conscience, as also be entirely against the interests of the victim (whose family has publicly made statements worrying for her safety), pleas stated.

The Gujarat government had released the 11 convicts, who were sentenced to life imprisonment, on August 15, 2022. All the 11 life-term convicts in the case were released as per the remission policy prevalent in Gujarat at the time of their conviction in 2008.

In March 2002 during the post-Godhra riots, Bano was allegedly gang-raped and left to die with 14 members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter. She was five months pregnant when rioters attacked her family in Vadodara.

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