Supreme Court judge Justice Bela M Trivedi on Wednesday recused herself from hearing pleas challenging the pre-mature release of 11 convicts, who had gang-raped Bilkis Bano and murdered her family members during the 2002 Godhra riots. A bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Bela M Trivedi ordered that matter be listed before the bench of which Justice Trivedi is not a part.
As Justice Trivedi recused to hear the matter, Justice Rastogi said the court couldn’t pass the order to tag the PILs with the one file by Bilkis Bano. “Since my sister (Justice Trivedi) wants to recuse, we cannot pass a tagging order. Now that the victim is here… we will take the victim’s matter as a lead matter… List before the bench wherein Justice Trivedi is not a member,” the bench said, adding that all the matters will be tagged when the bench in different combinations will sit.
As counsel of convicts questioned the locus standing of the petitioners who filed PILs against the remission granted to 11 convicts, the bench said once there is a plea by the victim then the point of locus goes. Earlier, Justice Trivedi recused herself from hearing the plea filed by Bilkis Bano against remission granted to convicts.
Besides filing a petition against the per-mature release of convicts, Bano had also filed a review petition seeking a review of its earlier order by which it had asked the Gujarat government to consider the plea for the remission of one of the convicts. The review petition was dismissed.
Some PILs were filed seeking directions to revoke the remission granted to 11 convicts. The pleas were filed by the National Federation of Indian Women, whose General Secretary is Annie Raja, Member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul, social activist and professor Roop Rekha Verma and TMC MP Mahua Moitra.
Gujarat government in its affidavit had defended remission granted to convicts saying they completed 14 years of sentence in prison and their “behaviour was found to be good”. The State government said it has considered the cases of all 11 convicts as per the policy of 1992 and remission was granted on August 10, 2022, and the Central government also approved the pre-mature release of convicts.
It is pertinent to note that the remission was not granted under the circular governing grant of remission to prisoners as part of the celebration of “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav”, it has said. The affidavit stated, “State government considered all the opinions and decided to release 11 prisoners since they have completed 14 years and above in prisons and their behaviour was found to be good.”
The government had also questioned the locus standi of petitioners who filed the PIL challenging the decision saying they are outsiders to the case. The pleas said they have challenged the order of competent authority of the government of Gujarat by way of which 11 persons who were accused in a set of heinous offences committed in Gujarat were allowed to walk free on August 15, 2022, pursuant to remission being extended to them.
The remission in this heinous case would be entirely against public interest and would shock the collective public conscience, as also be entirely against the interests of the victim (whose family has publicly made statements worrying for her safety), pleas stated. The Gujarat government, earlier released the 11 convicts, who were sentenced to life imprisonment, on August 15. All the 11 life-term convicts in the case were released as per the remission policy prevalent in Gujarat at the time of their conviction in 2008.
In March 2002 during the post-Godhra riots, Bano was allegedly gang-raped and left to die with 14 members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter. She was five months pregnant when rioters attacked her family in Vadodara.