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Supreme Court strikes down Gujarat’s premature release of Bilkis Bano rape-murder convicts, calls for justice reinforcement

The court has directed the convicts to surrender within two weeks.

The Supreme Court of India has overturned the Gujarat government’s decision to release 11 individuals prematurely. These individuals were convicted for the heinous crimes of raping Bilkis Bano and murdering her family members during the 2002 communal riots. The court has directed the convicts to surrender within two weeks. The key reason behind this decision is that the Gujarat government lacked the authority to decide on the remission of their sentences.

The court emphasized that the power to decide on remission lies with the state where the trial took place – in this case, Maharashtra. It ruled that the Gujarat government had overstepped its jurisdiction by not allowing the Maharashtra government to handle the remission plea. The court expressed concern that the judgment in May 2022, instructing the Gujarat government to consider remission, was obtained through fraudulent means and by withholding crucial information. The convicts were also criticized for not approaching the court with transparency.

In a strongly worded statement, the court accused the Gujarat government of encroaching upon the powers of the Maharashtra government by not filing a review petition against the May 2022 judgment. It declared that the remission orders were to be invalidated on the grounds of the Gujarat government unlawfully assuming power that was not rightfully theirs. The court also rebuked the Gujarat government for passing the remission order in August 2022 without proper consideration, describing it as a mere formality lacking thoughtful deliberation.

The court asserted that the convicted individuals must approach the Maharashtra government afresh with a new remission plea. This decision highlights the importance of adhering to the rule of law, emphasizing that the Gujarat government had breached this principle by wrongly wielding power not designated to it and abusing its authority.

Justice BV Nagarathna, while delivering the verdict, emphasized the role of the Supreme Court as a beacon in upholding the rule of law. The decision reflects the court’s commitment to ensuring justice and preventing the misuse of power. The court’s intervention underscores the need to follow legal procedures diligently and uphold the principles of justice, particularly in cases of grave crimes.

The case involves Bilkis Bano, who was subjected to gang rape and left for dead during the Godhra riots in March 2002. Tragically, several members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter, were brutally murdered. The 11 individuals, initially convicted in 2008, were released on August 15, 2022, citing Gujarat’s remission policy applicable at the time of their conviction.

The Gujarat government defended its decision in an affidavit, stating that the convicts had completed 14 years in prison, and their behavior during incarceration was commendable. However, the Supreme Court’s verdict underscores the significance of proper legal procedures and the need for the correct authority to decide on matters of remission.

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