Before a bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha, counsel Shobha Gupta sought an urgent hearing of the two petitions filed by Bilkis. The CJI said, “The earlier petitions (filed by Subhasini Ali and others) challenging grant of remission and release of convicts are pending before a bench headed by Justice Ajay Rastogi. I will examine if both these petitions (review and writ by Bilkis) could be listed before the same bench. I will pass appropriate orders.”
In her plea, Bilkis also said that the appropriate authority to consider the pleas for remission of sentence in her case should have been the Maharashtra government.
Responding to the earlier petitions challenging release of the lifers in the Bilkis Bano case, the Gujarat government had told the apex court that on June 28, it had sought the Centre’s approval for its proposal to remit the sentences of the lifers. The approval was granted on July 11. The state, exercising its power under the 1992 Rules, on August 10 remitted the sentences of the convicts on the ground that they were in jail for over 14 years.
Importantly, the state government had conceded that the remission proposal was opposed by both the trial court judge at Mumbai, where the trial was shifted from Gujarat on the SC’s orders, and the prosecuting agency CBI on the ground that the convicts didn’t deserve remission as they had committed heinous offences in a gruesome manner.
Bilkis in both her pleas narrated the 2002 incident as “one of the most gruesome and heinous crime of multiple gang rape of a five-month pregnant woman (Bilkis), gang rape and murder of her mother, gang rape and murder of her cousin who was weak being fresh from child delivery two days ago, brutal murder of eight minors, including a two-day-old girl child of her cousin, her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter (her first child) by smashing her head on a rock, her two minor brothers and sisters, other relatives – her ‘phupha’, ‘phuphi’, ‘mama’, three cousin sisters.”
Bilkis said she had survived the heinous, horrific and macabre crime “only because she became unconscious from the sexual assault and the accused (now prematurely released convicted prisoners) took her as dead”.
She said the SC bench headed by Justice Rastogi erred in ruling on May 13 that Gujarat and not Maharashtra was the appropriate government under Section 432 of the Criminal Procedure Code to grant remission. She said the SC in numerous judgments, including those delivered by constitution benches, had ruled that the state, under whose jurisdiction the trial takes place, is the appropriate authority to consider a plea for remission of sentence, which in this case should have been the Maharashtra government.
Bilkis said the convicts who approached the SC for expeditious consideration of their remission pleas concealed from the apex court the fact that the Gujarat HC had twice rejected similar pleas, first on July 17, 2019 and then on March 13, 2020, while holding that Maharashtra would be the appropriate authority to consider their remission pleas.
She said she was not made a party before the SC by the convicts and hence was unaware of SC’s direction to the Gujarat government to consider their remission pleas within two months. She said the state government also didn’t consult her nor gave her any document relating to the grant of remission, thus depriving her of the opportunity to question the decision in SC at a prior date.
Expressing her gratitude to Subhasini Ali and others for supporting her cause and challenging the release of the life convicts, Bilkis said she could file the review and writ petition after getting the relevant documents from the public spirited persons.
“The premature en masse release of the convicts in the much-talked-about Bilkis Bano case has shaken the conscience of the society and resulted in a number of agitations across the country,” she said.