Supreme Court on Thursday issued notice on pleas challenging the Gujarat government's August 15 order allowing the premature release of 11 convicts who were serving a life sentence for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and murder of her family members.
However, the bench comprising outgoing Chief Justice of India NV Ramana along with Justices Ajay Rastogi and Vikram Nath wondered if there was a legal bar on granting remission to convicts. "The question is under Gujarat Rules, are the convicts entitled for remission or not?" Justice Rastogi said.
Challenging the early release, senior advocate Kapil Sibal representing CPI (M) leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul and professor Roop Rekha Verma, said a large number of people lost their lives in the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. "There was an exodus of Muslims…(Bilkis) Bano and (cousin) Shamim and their family also fled from village to village…," Sibal said.
"Arson looting and violence took place... (Bilkis) Bano and Shamin with others were escaping… Shamim delivered a child...," Sibal added.
"When the group of 25 people saw Bano and others escape… they said musalmaano ko maaro (kill the Muslims). A three-year-old child's head was smashed to the ground, a pregnant was raped. What is judicial review in the context of remission,' Sibal asked while recapping the events that took place two decades ago.
"We have to see whether there was an application of mind in this case while granting remission,' Justice Rastogi said in response. "Are you saying remission cannot be granted? Day in and day out remission is granted to convicts serving a life sentence, what is the exception (in this case)" he asked Sibal.
"Merely because the act was horrific, is that sufficient to say remission is wrong?" Justice Rastogi
"Whatever they have committed, they have been convicted. The question is whether they are justified in considering remission. We are only concerned if remission was in the parameters of law," Justice Rastogi said.
Counsel representing the Gujarat government opposed the plea and said the petition was not maintainable because it was filed by strangers. The Supreme Court however directed the state to file their reply and also made the 11 convicts party to the proceedings.
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