The state government has submitted a 477-page affidavit in the Supreme Court in response to petitions challenging the release of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case. It said the convicts were out of jail for around 1,000 days even before being released on remission of life sentence.
One of the convicts, Mitesh Chamanlal Bhatt was booked and charge sheeted for offences under sections 354 (outraging the modesty of woman), 504 (insult intended to provoke breach of the peace) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of IPC, having a maximum sentence of 7 years, or fine, or both.
The state government further added that all convicts were granted furlough, parole, and even temporary bail at different points during the period of their imprisonment — 1,576 days being highest and 998 days lowest.
The District Magistrate of Dahod gave information about Bhatt in his letter dated May 25, 2022. He gave his opinion about his premature release under sections 432-433A of the CrPC — relating to suspension and remission of punishment of convicts.
The letter said the case against Bhatt was registered in Randhikpur police station in Dahod district, and charge sheet has been filed and the case is pending on the board of the court. The letter said the incident occurred on June 19, 2020, and since then Bhatt enjoyed 281 leaves out of the total 954 days parole and furlough leaves till date, May 25, 2022.
The Collector gave no objection to Bhatt’s premature release after considering the opinion of police sub-inspector, Randhikpur, and Deputy Superintendent of Police of Limkheda.
In an affidavit the Gujarat government told the Supreme Court that it decided to release the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case as they had completed 14 years and above in prison and their behaviour was found to be good and also the Centre had also conveyed its “concurrence/approval”.
The state government also added that the Superintendent of Police, CBI, Special Crime Branch, Mumbai and the Special Civil Judge (CBI), City Civil and Sessions Court, Greater Bombay, had, in March last year, opposed premature release of the convicts.
The CBI official, in letters to the superintendent of Godhra sub-jail, said the offence committed by the convicts was heinous, grave and serious, hence they cannot be released prematurely.
In an affidavit, the state Home Department’s Under Secretary said: “The Government of India conveyed the concurrence/ approval of the Central Government under section 435 of the CrPC for premature release of 11 prisoners vide letter dated July 11, 2022a.
The affidavit said the state government considered the opinions of seven authorities –the Inspector General of Prisons, Gujarat, the Jail Superintendents, the Jail Advisory Committee, the District Magistrate, the Police Superintendent, the CBI, the Special Crime Branch, Mumbai, and the sessions court, Mumbai.
The Gujarat government’s response came on a plea filed by CPI-M’s former MP Subhasini Ali, journalist Revati Laul, and Prof Roop Rekha Verma, challenging the release of 11 men convicted for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and multiple murders during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Petitions challenging the release of the convicts have been filed by Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra and others.
On October 18, the top court granted time to petitioners to file their response to the state government’s counter affidavit and scheduled the matter for further hearing on November 29.