The premature release of the gang-rape and murder convicts, which was green lighted by the Gujarat government after the approval of the Union Home Ministry, flies in the face of domestic and international law, and had led to considerable public outrage last year.
TODAY, the Supreme Court bench of the Chief Justice of India Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala agreed to constitute a special bench to hear a plea of Bilkas Bano, who was gang-raped during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, challenging the premature release of 11 convicts by the Gujarat government on August 15, 2022. The decision on remission was granted on account of their ‘good behaviour’ after spending 14 years in jail.
The plea for an urgent hearing was mentioned by Bano’s advocate Shobha Gupta.
The premature release of convicts is considered bad in law and led to public outcry. The convicts had also gang-raped four other family members of Bano, and then murdered them and three other family members of her, including her three year old daughter. Several petitions were filed challenging the remission, which the Supreme Court had agreed to hear last year.
The petition by Bano was to be heard by a bench of Justice Bela M. Trivedi last year, but she recused herself from hearing it, citing no reason.
Last year, the Supreme Court division bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Vikram Nath, in Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah@ Lala Vakil versus State of Gujarat & Anr., decided that the Gujarat government was the “appropriate government” for deciding the request of the convicts for their premature release, and that the same should be decided in accordance with the state government’s July 1992 policy, which was applicable when the trial of the 11 convicts concluded in 2008. This paved the way for the remission of the convicts.
One of the convicts, Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah alias Lala Vakil, had filed a petition against the dismissal of his plea for premature release by the High Court of Gujarat on the grounds that the trial was concluded in Maharashtra.
The Supreme Court had in 2004 directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate Bano’s case and subsequently the trial was held in Maharashtra to ensure a fair trial. In 2008, a Mumbai Sessions Court convicted the 11 persons under Sections 302 (punishment for murder), 376(2)(e) and (g) (committing rape when the woman is pregnant and gang-rape – in the then unamended version of section 376) read with Section 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code. They were awarded rigorous imprisonment for life with fine.
This was upheld by the division bench of the Bombay high court, and then the Supreme Court.
As the CBI investigated the case, the law required the concurrence of the Union Government for granting remission to the convicts, which was given by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs on July 11, 2022, as per an affidavit filed by the Gujarat Government.
Bano had filed a review petition against the Supreme Court’s judgment in Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah@ Lala Vakil. The division bench of Justices Rastogi and Nath, which had given the judgment, dismissed Bano’s review petition on December 13 last year, by passing an order in the chambers.