During the hearing on Thursday (August 17) regarding the release of the convicts in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case, the Supreme Court asked many tough questions to the Gujarat government.
A bench of Justices BV Nagaratna and Ujjwal Bhuiyan asked how the death sentence of the convicts was commuted to life imprisonment, how could they be released after serving 14 years.
The court asked the Gujarat government why other prisoners were not given the relief of release? In this, why were these culprits given the benefit of the policy in a selective manner.
Bilkis Bano was raped and her family members were killed during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
All the 11 people convicted in this case were released prematurely, for which the hearing is going on in the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court on Thursday said the Gujarat government that state governments should not be selective in granting remission to convicts and every prisoner should be given an opportunity to reform and rejoin society, according to news agency PTI.
The Gujarat government had defended its decision to prematurely release the convicts.
Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the Gujarat government, said that according to the law, hardened criminals should also be given a chance to reform themselves.
He argued that the crime of the 11 convicts was heinous, but does not fall in the category of rarest of rare cases. Therefore, they should be given a chance to improve.
On this, the bench questioned as to how much such a law was being applied to other prisoners in the jail. Why are our prisons overcrowded? Why is the policy of exemption being implemented selectively? The opportunity of reformation should be given not only to some prisoners but to every prisoner, but to what extent the policy of remission is being implemented where the convicts have completed 14 years of sentence? Is it being implemented in all cases.
The Additional Solicitor General replied that all states have to answer this question and the exemption policy varies from state to state.
Commenting on the remission policy of the States, the bench said that the question is whether the policy of premature release is being applied uniformly in all cases in respect of persons who have completed 14 years in prison and are eligible for this.
The bench said that on the other hand we have cases like Rudul Shah. Even though he was acquitted, he remained in jail. There are extreme cases, both on this side and on that side.
Rudul Shah was arrested in 1953 for the murder of his wife and remained in jail for several years, despite being acquitted by a sessions court on June 3, 1968. He was finally released in 1982.
Raju said that the opinion given by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on remitting the sentence of 11 convicts shows that there was no application of mind in it. The CBI had said that the crime committed was ‘heinous and serious’ and hence the convicts cannot be released prematurely and no leniency can be shown to them.
Raju said that apart from describing the crime as heinous, nothing has been mentioned. The officer sitting in Mumbai has no knowledge of the ground reality. In this matter the opinion of the local superintendent of police is more useful than that of the CBI officer.
He said that there is no application of mind in the opinion of the CBI. He has reiterated the facts and said that this is a heinous crime. What is the purpose of exemption? Does committing a heinous offense disqualify you from getting the benefit of it (exemption)? The hearing in the case will resume on August 24.
In this case, apart from the petition filed by Bilkis Bano, PILs filed by TMC leader Mahua Moitra, CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali and many others have challenged the exemption.
Bilkis Bano was gang-raped in 2002 during the communal riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident. She was pregnant then.
During this, her three-year-old daughter was one of the seven family members killed in the riots.