A petition by Bilkis Bano challenges the release of 11 convicts in a gangrape case in the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will hear Bilkis Bano’s application to challenge the premature release of 11 convicts accused of gang rapping her and killing seven family members during the 2002 Godhra riots in Gujarat. Moreover, Bano filed a review petition challenging the top court’s May order which permitted the Gujarat government to decide whether or not to remit the convicts.

The matter has been referred to Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud for listing. According to the Chief Justice of India, both pleas will be heard by the same bench.

According to the Gujarat government’s remission and premature release policy, the convicts were released on August 15 after one of them, Radheshyam Shah, requested a hearing before the Supreme Court. In 2008, a CBI court in Mumbai sentenced Shah to life imprisonment. He has now served 15 years and four months in prison.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court had instructed the Gujarat government to determine whether Shah’s sentence should be commuted within two months. According to the apex court, Gujarat was the “appropriate government” to determine questions such as remission or premature release because “the crime was committed there, not in the state where the trial was transferred and concluded under the orders of this Court for exceptional reasons”.

The President and Governors are authorised to pardon, suspend, remit, or commute sentences passed by the courts under Articles 72 and 161. Additionally, since prisons are considered state subjects, state governments may remit sentences under Section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). As stated in Section 433A of the CrPC, there are restrictions on these powers.

A statement was made by Raj Kumar, Additional Chief Secretary (Home), following the release of the convicts: “The eleven convicts have served a total of 14 years in prison. The law stipulates that a convict serving a life sentence must serve at least 14 years before he or she may apply for remission. In this case, it is the government’s decision whether or not to consider the application. Under the recommendation of the prison advisory committee and the district legal authority, prisoners are granted remission according to their eligibility.”

Her three-year-old daughter Saleha was among 14 persons killed by a mob in Limkheda taluka of the Dahod district on March 3, 2002. A pregnant Bilkis was present at the time. After facing death threats in Gujarat, the high court transferred the case to Maharashtra.

As of November 3, 2011, 11 convicts have been released: Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Mitesh Bhatt, Ramesh Chandana and Kesarbhai Vohania.

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