Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editors: Mohd Irshad Alam, Rajbir Singh
Not long after it was revealed that the central government approved the premature release of 11 convicted men, who were sentenced to life in the Bilkis Bano case, the Gujarat government's affidavit before the Supreme Court shows that 10 of them were out of prison for more than 1,000 days each before the remission was approved.
The eleventh convict was out for 998 days before being released.
The affidavit shows that they were out either on parole, on furlough, or on temporary bail.
The 11 men were convicted of gang-raping Bilkis Bano, killing her three-year-old daughter and 13 other relatives during the 2002 Gujarat riots. They walked out of jail on 15 August 2022 after the government of Gujarat approved their release under its remission policy.
What else does the Gujarat government's affidavit say about their release? Who opposed the release of the convicts? How has the Gujarat government responded to the petitioners challenging the remission? What did the Supreme Court say about the case?
11 Convicts Were Out for an Average of 1,176 Days Before Their Release
The latest developments in the case unfolded on Monday when the Gujarat government told the Supreme Court that it decided to release the 11 convicts in the case because:
they completed 14 years and above in prison
their behaviour was "found to be good"
the central government had also "conveyed (its) concurrence/ approval"
According to the Gujarat government's affidavit, the 11 convicted men were out of jail for an average of 1,176 days each before each of them was released.
All of them, except 57-year-old Bakabhai Vahoniya, who was out of prison for 998 days, were out for more than 1000 days before being released.
They were out either on:
Parole: The temporary or permanent release of a prisoner before completing their sentence
Furlough: The temporary release of a prisoner so that they can maintain familial and social relationships and deal with the mental distress of long-term imprisonment
Temporary bail: Bail that is granted for a short period of time before the regular bail hearing
Out of the 11 convicts, 58-year-old Ramesh Chandana was out of prison for 1,576 days (1,198 days of parole and 378 days of furlough) before his release, more than any other convict.
Convict Out on Parole Accused of Outraging a Woman's Modesty
To make matters worse, one of the convicted men in the case, Mitesh Chimanlal Bhatt, is accused of outraging a woman's modesty while out on parole in June 2020.
The information comes from an annexe of the affidavit submitted by the state of Gujarat to the SC. The trial in the case is pending.
The affidavit shows that the office of the Superintendent of Police, Dahod, had informed the district magistrate that an "offence has been registered against the said applicant/accused prisoner no.26143-Mitesh Chimanlal Bhatt" under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code:
354: outraging the modesty of a woman
504: intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace,
506 (2): criminal intimidation
114: Abetment of an offence if the abettor is present during the offence
It also stated that a "chargesheet has been filed and currently this case is pending on the board of the Hon'ble Court."
Who All Had Opposed the Release of the Convicts?
The Gujarat government, in its affidavit, also mentioned that there were numerous people and institutions that had opposed the early release of the prisoners in March 2021. These were:
The Superintendent of Police (SP)
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)
The Special Crime Branch, Mumbai
The Special Civil Judge (CBI)
The City Civil and Sessions Court, Greater Bombay
Additionally, a CBI official had written to the SP stating that the offence committed was "heinous, grave and serious," and therefore, the convicts cannot "cannot be released prematurely and no leniency may be given" to them.
'Sheer Misuse of PIL,' Gujarat Govt Tells SC
The remission of convicts in Bilkis Bano's case has been challenged by numerous petitioners in the form of two petitions – one filed by Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Subhashini Ali, independent journalist and filmmaker Revati Laul, and academic Roop Rekha Verma; and the other by Trinamool Congress Member of Parliament Mahua Moitra.
The Supreme Court then issued a notice to the Gujarat government regarding the petitions.
The government, on 17 October, replied that the petitions amount to a "sheer misuse of public interest litigation," using the logic that third-party interference, disguised as a PIL, should not be entertained in a criminal case.
"It is well established that PIL is not maintainable in a criminal matter. The petitioner is in no way connected to the proceedings, which either convicted the accused in question or with the proceedings which culminated in the grant of remission to the convicts. Thus, a petition at the instance of a mere busybody which is political machinations is liable to be dismissed," the government's reply added.
SC Slams Gujarat Government's Reply
The Supreme Court, commenting on the Gujarat government's reply to the petitioners, called it a very "bulky" one in which, while a series of judgments have been quoted, factual statements are missing and there is no "application of mind."
"I have not come across a counter affidavit where a series of judgments are quoted. Factual statement should have been made. A very bulky counter. Where is the factual statement, where is the application of mind?" the bench led by Justice Ajay Rastogi observed.
Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta agreed with the court, stating that "the judgments were mentioned for easy reference, it could have been avoided."
Nevertheless, the apex court granted time to the petitioners to respond to the Gujarat government's affidavit. The court will reconvene for the case on 29 November.