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Bilkis Bano: SC Quashes Gujarat Govt's Release Order, Convicts to Return to Jail

Bilkis Bano approached the SC challenging the remission granted by the Gujarat government to eleven convicts.

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The Supreme Court on Monday, 8 January, quashed the Gujarat government's decision to grant remission to 11 convicts sentenced to life term in the Bilkis Bano case, Live Law reported.

A bench, led by Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan, said that the Gujarat government was not "competent" to pass the remission order.

What was said: While pronouncing the order, the apex court stated that the government to decide the remission is the state within whose jurisdiction the accused were sentenced, and not the state within whose territory the offence was committed.

"The government of the State where the offender is sentenced is the appropriate government to grant remission, not the government of the state where the offence took place," Justice Nagarathana said as quoted by Live Law.

Hence, the government to pass the remission orders would be the Maharashtra government, the bench said.

The court also directed the convicts to report to jail authorities in the next two weeks.

"Article 142 cannot be invoked by us to allow the convicts to remain out of jail and this would mean making them beneficiary of orders which are invalid. We hold that deprivation of liberty to the respondents is justified. They have lost their right to liberty once they were convicted and imprisoned. If they want to seek remission in accordance with law then they have to be in jail. Rule of law must prevail. Thus all respondents are directed to report to jail authorities within two weeks,"
Justice BV Nagarathana as quoted by Live Law

In October 2023, the apex court had reserved its verdict after a 11-day hearing of the pleas challenging the government's decision.

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The case: On 15 August 2022, the Gujarat government granted remission and released eleven men, sentenced to life for the gang rape of then 21-year-old Bano, and the murder of seven of her family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Who filed the petitions? Besides the petition filed by Bano against the remission, several other Public Interest Litigations (PILs) were filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, independent journalist Revati Laul, former vice-chancellor of Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma, and TMC leader Mahua Moitra, challenging the relief.

What did the SC say? While reserving the judgment, the apex court directed the Centre and the Gujarat government to submit by October 16 2023, the original records related to the remission of sentence of the 11 convicts.

During the hearings in September 2022, the SC observed that state governments should 'not be selective in granting remissions to convicts and the opportunity to reform and reintegrate with society should extend to every prisoner.'

"Why is the policy of remission being applied selectively? The opportunity to reintegrate and reform should be given to every convict, not a few. Question is, not en masse, but where eligible, are all life sentence convicts after 14 years being given the benefit of remission?" Justice Nagarathna had observed orally.

In 2022, the Gujarat government told the SC that the Centre had given a go-ahead for the premature release of the 11 convicts, while the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had opposed it.

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More details: On 3 March, 2002, Bilkis Bano's family was attacked by a mob at Randhikpur village in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district during the post-Godhra riots.

On 21 January 2008, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai sentenced 11 men to life imprisonment in relation to the case.

The Supreme Court had in April 2019 directed the Gujarat government to give Rs 50 lakh compensation, a job and accommodation to Bilkis.

The 11 convicts who walked out of the jail were convicted for gang rape of a pregnant woman, murder and unlawful assembly under sections of the Indian Penal Code.

The Quint had earlier reported that 10 of the convicts were out of prison for more than 1,000 days each before the remission was approved.

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