In a significant development, the Supreme Court, on Friday 19.01.2024, dismissed the applications of all eleven convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, rejecting their request for additional time to surrender before jail authorities. The court emphasized that the reasons presented by the convicts lacked merit, upholding the original deadline of January 21, as stipulated in the January 8 judgment.
The bench, comprising Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan, heard multiple applications filed by the convicts seeking an extension of the surrender deadline. Notably, the Supreme Court had overturned remission orders by the Gujarat government, allowing the premature release of the convicts who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for their involvement in multiple murders and gang rapes during the 2002 Gujarat communal riots.
The released convicts had availed themselves of the State of Gujarat’s remission policy in August 2022 after serving 14 years of their life sentences. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the State of Gujarat lacked jurisdiction to grant remission since the trial had taken place in the State of Maharashtra. The court mandated the convicts to surrender within two weeks, setting the deadline for January 21.
Despite the impending deadline, Senior Advocate V Chitambaresh, representing three convicts, sought an urgent hearing for their extension pleas. Justice Nagarathna directed the registry to consult Chief Justice DY Chandrachud regarding the reconstitution of the bench that issued the verdict and the listing of the applications.
The January 8 Supreme Court decision had nullified the remission for the 11 convicts, including those involved in the heinous crimes against Bilkis Bano during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. The division bench, after an 11-day-long hearing that began in August and concluded with the judgment reserved on October 12, found the remission orders lacking jurisdiction due to the trial being conducted in Maharashtra.
Advocate Shobha Gupta represented Bilkis in the case, with Senior Advocates Indira Jaising, Vrinda Grover, Aparna Bhat, Nizamuddin Pasha, and Pratik R Bombarde representing various public interest litigants. Additional Solicitor-General SV Raju appeared for both the State of Gujarat and the Union of India. The now-released convicts were represented by Senior Advocates Sidharth Luthra, Rishi Malhotra, S Guru Krishnakumar, Advocate Sonia Mathur, and others.
This decision marks a crucial turn in the legal proceedings related to the Bilkis Bano case, reinforcing the Supreme Court’s commitment to justice and emphasizing the importance of jurisdiction in matters of remission. As the convicts face the impending deadline, the legal community remains attentive to further developments in this high-profile case.