Justice Bela Trivedi recuses herself from hearing Bilkis Bano’s plea against remission of convicts

Without citing a reason, Justice Trivedi announced her decision to recuse herself from hearing Bilkis Bano’s plea challenging the remission of 11 persons convicted of raping her and murdering her family members. Another petition seeking similar relief also remains pending.

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JUSTICE Bela M. Trivedi on Tuesday recused herself from hearing a petition by 2002 Gujarat riots survivor Bilkis Bano challenging the decision of the Gujarat government to grant remission to 11 convicts in the case involving the gangrape of Bano, and the rape and murder of Bano’s family. Justice Trivedi did not cite any reason for her recusal.

In response, Advocate Shobha Gupta, appearing for Bano, urged for an urgent hearing of the petition in view of the fact that the Supreme Court is scheduled to close for vacation on December 18.

A division bench comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi and Trivedi was slated to hear a writ petition filed by Bano against the state government order that led to the release of the 11 convicts, claiming that the order threatens her security and that of her family, and violated her fundamental right to life. The matter will now be heard before another two-judge bench comprising Justice Rastogi.

The 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case were granted remission for “good behaviour” by the Gujarat government, which resulted in their release on August 15 after 15 years of imprisonment that involved multiple paroles and furloughs. Their request for premature release was considered pursuant to a direction by a division bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justice Rastogi, in May, directing the Gujarat government to decide the applications of the convicts for premature release under the government’s 1992 remission policy.

Bano has also challenged the Supreme Court’s May order through a separate review petition against its decision to permit the Gujarat government to take a decision on convicts’ remission, rather than the Maharashtra government in whose jurisdiction the trial of the convicts took place. The review petition was also listed to be heard on Tuesday in chambers by a bench of Justices Rastogi and Vikram Nath.

Another set of petitions, filed by Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Subhashini Ali, independent journalist and filmmaker Revati Laul, and activist Roop Rekh Varma questioning the remission order, is also pending before a two-judge bench comprising Justices Rastogi and C.T. Ravikumar. The petition was last heard on October 18.

In an affidavit filed in reply to a notice issued in the above petition, the Gujarat government has disclosed that the remission granted to the convicts had been pre-approved by the Union Home Ministry, even though it was previously opposed by the Superintendent of Police, Special Crime Branch, Central Bureau of Investigation (‘CBI’), Mumbai, as well as a special judge of the CBI, on the basis of the heinous nature of the crimes committed.

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