Years after conviction, fine gets paid in Bilkis Bano case: Supreme Court questions the need

Today, senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, appearing for Ramesh Chandana, one of the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gangrape and family murder case, informed the Supreme Court that fine has been paid in the sessions court in Mumbai which had passed the original conviction judgment.

TODAY, the Supreme Court heard arguments by one of the 11 persons convicted of gangraping Bilkis Bano and murdering her family during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.

A division Bench comprising Justices B.V. Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan is hearing a batch of petitions against the Gujarat government’s August 2022 decision to remit the sentences of the 11 convicts.

On an earlier occasion, it was argued before the Bench that since the convicts had “not bothered” to pay the fines imposed on them, the non-payment had made them “automatically ineligible” for remission.

Today, senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, appearing for Ramesh Chandana, one of the convicts, informed the Bench that the fine has been paid in the sessions court in Mumbai which had convicted the said persons.

The sessions court had accepted the payment, Luthra added.

Perusing the receipts placed before the Bench, Justice Nagarathna asked, “Was it deposited today?”

Luthra confirmed that the fine was deposited earlier in the day.

Justice Nagarathna then sought to know whether “non-deposit of fine has a bearing on the remission?”

According to me, no,” replied Luthra.

‘Illegal remission’: Grover in previous hearing

In the hearing on August 10, senior advocate Vrinda Grover had urged the court to take note that “not even a penny has been paid by any of the convicts. The Bombay High Court, while confirming their sentence, said that this fine is to be paid as compensation to the victim.”

Grover appeared in the case on behalf of former director general of police Meeran Chadha Borwankar, a former Indian Foreign Service officer and a former professor at the Indian Institute of Ahmedabad.

Referring to Justice Bhuyan’s question on whether the convicts had shown any remorse for their crimes, Grover had asked: “Is this (non-payment of fine) a reflection of remorse?”

Grover further submitted that owing to the non-payment of fines, the remission was ‘illegal’ since the convicts were yet to serve the default sentence for the non-payment.

‘Controversy does not survive’

Today, Luthra also stated that his client had sought liberty from the Supreme Court to deposit the fine at the sessions court in Mumbai, “but since the fine has been deposited, that part of the controversy does not survive in any case.”

To this, Justice Bhuyan responded, “But at the time of remission, it (the fine) [had not been] paid.”

I bow before that and I completely agree, but it does not have any legal consequences,” Luthra contended.

But did you apprehend that non-deposition (of fine) would have a bearing on the merits of the case?” Justice Nagarathna asked.

Luthra replied that he did not think so.

Then there was no need to deposit (the fine),” Justice Nagarathna retorted.

It was my advice, and perhaps it was poor advice, but then I am known to give bad advice at times,” Luthra said with a short laugh.

Justice Nagarathna countered by noting that Luthra’s client and other convicts had previously moved an application seeking the Supreme Court’s clearance to deposit the fine.

You asked for permission, then deposited the fine without permission,” she remarked.

We asked for permission, but the individual accused— because of stress or whatever— went running to the court and the registry must have accepted it,” Luthra replied.

He assured the Bench that the action was not meant to overreach the court. “Otherwise, we would not have moved the application,” he reasoned.

Luthra, echoing arguments from an earlier hearing in which maintainability of petitions other than that of Bano had been questioned, ended his submissions by stating that arguments about “society’s cry for justice” and the heinousness of the offence are not relevant at this stage.

The Leaflet