The Central government has no role in the release of the 11 life-term convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, the top Union Home Ministry official told The New Indian. The convicts were released as per the remission policy prevalent in Gujarat at the time of their conviction in 2008, the official said.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court of India sought the Gujarat government’s response to a plea challenging the release of 11 men convicted for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
According to the Union Home Ministry officials, the petitioner-prisoner Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah and his co-accused were sentenced to life imprisonment by a Mumbai court on January 21, 2008, in Bilkis Bano’s case. The official explained that Shah had filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court for early release from prison.
In his petition to the Gujarat High Court, Shah stated that he had served a sentence of 15 years and 4 months. However, as the trial was completed in the State of Maharashtra, the verdict was given that the application for early release had to be made to the State of Maharashtra and not to the State of Gujarat, the official explained.
The official said that the Gujarat Law Department’s guidance was sought in the matter as to whether the state government is empowered to grant remission of sentence under Section 432, which is also subject to the provisions of Section 433(a) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
“The Law Department has taken into account the judgment of the Gujarat High Court and has stated that since Shah has been punished by the Court of Maharashtra state, the Maharashtra government, as the competent authority, has to take a decision and the Gujarat government has no power. The Maharashtra government was told to take a decision on the early release of the said prisoner,” the official said.
He further stated that Shah challenged the Gujarat High Court’s order in the Supreme Court by way of the writ petition. Shah prayed the Supreme Court to direct the Gujarat government to decide on the application regarding early release from prison or remission of the sentence as per the policy dated July 9, 1992, which was in force as date of the sentence in 2008.
“The Supreme Court gave its verdict on May 13 this year. Since the prisoner has committed a crime in the state of Gujarat, in this case, the Gujarat government has to decide on the early release of the prisoner according to the policy which was in force on the date of the conviction of the crime, i.e., the state government to decide the application for early release from prison as per the remission policy dated July 9, 1992, within two months,” he explained.
When asked whether the judgment of the Supreme Court in the above case would apply to other accused in the case of Bilkis Banu and, according to this judgment, whether the state government has the authority to release them early, the official said that further guidance is sought in the matter. “The state law department’s guidance was sought in this regard,” he said.
The official added that since other convicts of Bano’s case have also committed the crime in the state of Gujarat, the law department has opined that in accordance with the Supreme Court judgment in May this year, the state government is competent to consider their cases too.
“As per the judgment of Supreme Court on May 13 this year and in view of the 1992 remission policy of the state government, the proposal for early release from prison has to be considered and decided within two months. Accordingly, the competent authority has decided to grant remission of sentence to 11 convicts of the Bilkis Banu case,” he pointed out.
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the violence that broke out after the Godhra train burning. Among those killed was her three-year-old daughter.