New Delhi: State governments should not be selective in granting remission to convicts and every prisoner should be given an opportunity to reform and rejoin society, the Supreme Court told the Gujarat government on Thursday, which has upheld its decision of premature release of all 11 convicts. was defended. Bilkis Bano gang rape case during 2002 riots.
The apex court’s observation came in response to the submission of Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the Gujarat government, that the law says even hardened criminals should be given a chance to reform themselves. The law officer said the crime committed by the 11 convicts was “heinous” but did not fall in the rarest of the rare categories.
“Hence, they deserve a chance to improve. A person may have committed a crime…something has gone wrong at a particular moment. Later on, he can always realize the consequences.”
“This can be determined to a large extent by their conduct in prison when released on parole or furlough. All this shows that he has realized that what he did is wrong. The law is not that everyone should be punished forever. Should be given a chance to improve. Raju said.
Responding to the submission, a bench of Justice BV Nagaratna and Justice Ujjwal Bhuiyan sought to know how far the law was being applied to other inmates in the jail. “Why are our prisons overcrowded? Why is the policy of exemption being applied selectively?” The opportunity to reform and reintegrate should be given to every prisoner, not just a few. But to what extent is the policy of remission being implemented where the convicts have completed 14 years of sentence? Is it being implemented in all cases?” the bench asked Raju.
The ASG replied that all states have to answer this question and the exemption policy varies from state to state. Commenting on the exemption policy of the States, the bench said that the question is whether the policy of premature release is being applied uniformly in all cases in respect of persons who have completed 14 years and for are eligible.
The bench said, “On the other hand, we have cases like Rudul Shah. Even though he was acquitted, he remained in jail. Extreme cases, both on this side and that side.” Rudul Shah was arrested in 1953 for the murder of his wife and, despite being acquitted by a sessions court on 3 June 1968, remained in prison for several years. He was finally released in 1982.
The opinion given by the CBI on the ASG remitting the sentence of 11 convicts shows that there was no application of mind. The CBI had said that the crime committed was “heinous, grave and serious” and hence the convicts “cannot be given premature release and no leniency can be shown to them”.
Raju said, “They only state facts. Nothing is mentioned except describing the crime as heinous. The officer sitting in Mumbai has no knowledge of the ground reality. The opinion of the local superintendent of police is more useful than the opinion of the CBI officer.” in this matter.
“There is no application of mind in the opinion of the CBI. He has reiterated the facts and said that this is a heinous crime. What is the purpose of forgiveness? Does committing a heinous crime disqualify you from getting the benefit of it (the exemption)?” Raju said. The hearing in the case will resume on August 24.
In a previous hearing, TMC MP Mahua Moitra had told the top court that the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of seven of her family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots was a “crime against humanity”, and accused the Gujarat government of It failed to comply with its constitutional mandate to protect the rights of women and children by granting immunity to 11 convicts in the “horrific” case.
Apart from the petition filed by Bilkis Bano challenging the exemption granted to her, several other PILs including CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, independent journalist Revati Laul and former Lucknow University Vice-Chancellor Roop Rekha Verma have challenged the exemption. Moitra has also filed a PIL against the exemption.
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the communal riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident. Their three-year-old daughter was one of the seven family members killed in the riots.