The Supreme Court quashed remission Orders of 11 persons convicted of gangraping Bilkis Bano and murdering seven members of her family and ordered them to surrender by January 22, 2024. Now, three have sought an extension of time to surrender citing ailing parents, medical conditions and standing crops.
TODAY, three of the eleven convicts who gang-rapedBilkis Bano and murdered several of her family members during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom approached the Supreme Court seeking an extension of time to surrender.
The three convicts, Govindbhai Nai, Ramesh Rupabhai Chandana and Mitesh Chimanlal Bhatt, were prematurely released by the Gujarat government on August 15, 2022 along with eight other convicts in the case.
On January 8, a Supreme Court division Bench of Justices B.V. Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyanquashed their remission Orders. The court ordered them tosurrenderwithin two weeks.
Nai, 54 years old, has submitted that he is the child of an ailing father who is 88 years old and completely dependent on him to fulfill his daily needs.
Nai has stated that he is medically unfit as he had recently undergone an operation for angiography and is yet to go for another operation for haemorrhoids. He needs four weeks to make arrangements.
As per applicant Chandana, who is 58 years old, his mother is suffering from multiple age-related ailments and he needs to make viable arrangements before surrendering. He himself has a heart ailment and is on medication.
Chandana has stated that surrendering within the period stipulated by the court will adversely affect his mental and physical health.
He has prayed for the court to grant him four additional weeks to surrender considering his predicaments and that he did not commit an infraction of law during his release.
Lastly, Bhatt, 62 years old, has sought six additional seeks to surrender. As per his plea, he is unmarried and earns his livelihood from agricultural produce. He stated that his winter crops are ready to be harvested and he needs five to six weeks to tend to them.
During the2002 Gujarat pogrom, on March 3, 2002, a Hindutva mob barged intoBilkis Bano’s home in Randhikpur village near Ahmedabad, gang-raped her and murdered seven members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter. Bilkis was twenty-one years old and five months pregnant with her second child at the time.
A case was registered in 2003 at a local police. On March 25, 2003, the police filed a report citing inconsistencies in the testimonies and a lack of evidence. Eventually, the report was accepted by a magistrate and the case was closed.
Bano approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which was then led by former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma and also comprised former Supreme Court judge Sujata Manohar. The NHRC intervened and ensured legal assistance to Bano. The NHRC approached the Supreme Court through senior advocate Harish Salve.
Salve urged the court for a fresh investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and a transfer of the trial from Gujarat to Maharashtra.
In 2003, the Supreme Courttransferred the investigation to the CBI and directed the trial to take place in Maharashtra to ensure a free and impartial trial.
Eleven persons were convicted of raping Bano by a CBI court in Mumbai in 2008 for the offences of murder (Section302), gang-rape and rape of a pregnant woman under Section376(2)(e)(g) read with Section149 of the Indian Penal Code. They were awarded rigorous imprisonment for life, along with a fine.
In 2019, the Bombay High Court upheld the conviction and sentencing. Subsequently, in 2019, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the high court and awarded a compensation of ₹50 lakh to Bano.
However, they were granted remission by the Gujarat government for their ‘good behaviour’ under the1992 Gujarat remission policy after serving fourteen years in jail. They were given a premature release during the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav on August 11, 2022.
This decision wasapproved by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
The remission led topublic outcry. Bano filed a petition challenging the premature release. Several members of civil society, including journalists, academics and politicians alsofiled petitions challenging the remission.
On March 22, 2023, the Supreme Court constituted a special Bench to hear Bano’s challenge. The Bench comprising Justices B.V. Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan heard the matter in detail and reserved the judgment on October 12.
How was the remission granted?
The remission was granted based on the May 13, 2022 decision of the Supreme Court.
In this case, one of the convicts, Radheshyam, approached the court seeking directions to the Gujarat government to consider his application for remission under the policy of the state government dated July 9, 1992.
The 1992 policy has been replaced by a 2014 policy. The 2014 policy explicitly bars remission for those convicted of rape and murder.
According to his writ petition, the 1992 remission policy must be applicable for considering his plea for premature release and not the 2014 policy.
However, the petitioner neither showed that he was convicted in connection to the Gujarat riots nor did he make Bano a party to his petition.
In 2019, the Gujarat High Court was hearing his plea for premature release. Radheshyam had undergone a sentence of more than fifteen years and four months without remission.
On July 17, 2019, the high court dismissed his petition relying on the decision of the Supreme Court Constitution Bench in Union of India versus V. Sriharan alias Murugan and Others (2016). It held that since the trial was concluded in Maharashtra, the application for pre-mature release has to be filed in Maharashtra and not Gujarat.
The Supreme Court Bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Vikram Nath quashed the high court’s Order and held that the ‘appropriate government’ under Section 432(7) of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the ordinary course remains the government of Gujarat even though the case had been transferred to Maharashtra.
The court reasoned that the case was transferred in exceptional circumstances and only for the limited purpose of trial. After the trial was concluded, the case was transferred to Gujarat where the crime was committed. It relied on its judgment in State of Haryana versus Jagdish (2010).