The Supreme Court on Tuesday deferred to May 9 the hearing on a batch of pleas challenging the remission granted to the 11 convicts last year in the case of gangrape of Bilkis Bano and murder of her family members during the 2002 post-Godhra riots.
A bench of justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna was told by Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and the Gujarat government that they are not claiming any privilege and are not filing any plea for review of the March 27 order of the court, which had asked for production of original records, with regard to the remission granted to the convicts. The SG, at the outset, raised preliminary objections with regard to petitions filed in the matter other than by Bano, saying it will have wide ramifications as every now and then third parties will come to the courts in criminal cases.
The bench fixed May 9 for hearing the matter as several counsel for convicts, who have been released in the case, said that they need time to file their replies to the plea by Bano.
"We are only fixing timelines, so that whichever court takes up the matter, it will not have to waste time on these procedural issues. I am retiring during vacation on June 16. My last working day will be on May 19. My sister (Justice Nagarathna) will be going to attend a conference in Singapore till May 25. If all of you agree, then we can sit during vacation and finish hearing this case," Justice Joseph said.
The SG, however, urged the court that it may list the matter before the summer vacation.
Advocate Shobha Gupta said that the matter will take a very short time as only the question of law needs to be decided.
Justice Joseph told Gupta, "It is apparent from the way counsel appearing for convicts that they do not want this hearing to take place. Every time the matter will be called up, one person or the other will come and say that he needs time to file a reply. It is more than obvious". However, the bench said that the new bench will take up the matter for hearing in the second week of July.
Senior advocate Siddharth and advocate Rishi Malhotra, appearing for the convicts, said what was the “tearing hurry” in hearing the case after counsel for Bano and others requested that the matter be taken up before vacation.
"We have been released and are out for around one year. There should not be any tearing hurry", Malhotra said.
He added that he wishes to file some preliminary objections to the writ petition filed by Bano against the remission, saying that the Supreme Court rules do not allow the filing of a writ petition after a review against the main judgement has been dismissed.
On April 18, the top court questioned the Gujarat government over the remission granted to the 11 convicts last year, saying the gravity of the offence should have been considered and asked whether there was any application of mind.
Asking for reasons for the premature release of the convicts, the top court had also questioned the parole granted to them during their incarceration period. "It(remission) is a kind of grace which should be proportional to crime." The Centre and the Gujarat government had also told the court they may file a plea seeking a review of its March 27 order asking them to be ready with original files on the grant of remission.
On March 27, terming the Bilkis Bano's gang rape and the murder of her family members during the 2002 Godhra riots as a "horrendous" act, the top court had asked the Gujarat government whether uniform standards, as followed in other cases of murder, were applied while granting remission to the 11 convicts in the case.
It had sought a response from the Centre, Gujarat government and others on the plea filed by Bano, who has challenged the remission of the sentences.
All 11 convicts were granted remission by the Gujarat government and released on August 15 last year.
The top court is seized of PILs filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, Revati Laul, an independent journalist, Roop Rekha Verma, who is a former vice chancellor of the Lucknow University, and TMC MP Mahua Moitra against the release of the convicts.
Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing from the riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven family members killed in the riots.
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