The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it will hear on November 29 the pleas against the grant of remission by the Gujarat government to convicts in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case.
A bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and C T Ravikumar also instructed that the petitioners be given time to file their reply to affidavit filed by the Gujarat government. "A counter has been filed by the Gujarat government. Let counter affidavit be made available to all counsels," the bench said.
The court documents submitted before the apex court by the Gujarat government said that the release of 11 convicted men was approved by the Home Ministry within two weeks. The CBI and a special court had opposed the clearance. The Gujarat government sought the Centre's approval on June 28 and the nod came on July 11, the affidavit added.
The state further said that it decided to release the 11 convicts as they had completed 14 years and above in prison and their behaviour was found to be good.
However, Special Judge Anand L Yawalkar wrote to the Superintendent of the Godhra sub-jail in March 2021 against the premature release of the convicts, saying it would be the laws of Maharashtra and not Gujarat that would apply to the convicts since the case was heard there.
"In this case, all convicted accused were found guilty of rape and murder of innocent people. That the accused had no enmity or any relation with the victim. The crime was committed only on the ground that the victims belongs to a particular religion. In this case, even minor children and pregnant woman were not spared. This is worst form of hate crime and crime against the humanity. It affects the conscious of society. Aggrieved of this crime is society at large (sic)," the judge said.
The CBI too opposed their release stating that the offence committed was "heinous, grave and serious" and hence they "cannot be released prematurely and no leniency may be given" to them.
The men were released on Independence Day triggering huge controversy. The state had then failed to clarify whether the release had the approval of the Home Ministry.
The Gujarat government said that except for the special judge and the CBI, all other authorities that it consulted approved the release. These include the Special Crime Branch, Mumbai, Superintendent of Police, Dahod; Collector and District Magistrate, Dahod; Jail Superintendent, Godhra sub-jail; Jail Advisory Committee; and Additional Director General of Prisons, Ahmedabad.
The state said the prisoners were granted relief as per its 1992 policy, and not under the circular governing grant of remission to prisoners as part of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.
During the 2002 Gujarat riots, Bilkis Bano was raped and her three-year-old daughter was murdered along with seven members of her family. Bano, who was 21 and pregnant at that time, was gang-raped. She fought the case, following which the convicts were sentenced to a life term in jail by a special court in Mumbai, which was later upheld by the High Court.
Bilkis Bano also won the highest-ever compensation in a rape case -- a job, a house and ₹ 50 lakh.