Supreme Court judge Justice Bela M. Trivedi on Wednesday refused herself from hearing a clutch of petitions against the release of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case.
A bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Trivedi took up the petitions filed by CPI-M leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul, Lucknow University's former Vice Chancellor Roop Rekha Verma, and Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, challenging the release of the convicts.
Advocate Rishi Malhotra, representing one of the convicts, vehemently argued that petitioners must prove their locus standi in the case. Advocates Vrinda Grover and Aparna Bhat, representing the petitioners, opposed Malhotra's contention, saying that the stage of maintainability was crossed after the court issued notice on their plea.
Bilkis Bano was gang-raped and multiple members of her family were killed during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Advocate Shobha Gupta, representing Bilkis Bano, contended that earlier Justice Trivedi had recused herself from hearing her client's plea against the release of convicts.
At this juncture, the judges on the bench had a brief conversation. Justice Rastogi said that if Justice Trivedi had already recused from hearing the victim's plea, she would like to recuse from hearing this matter also.
He further added that Bilkis Bano's plea will be taken up as the lead matter and the rest of the writ petitions would be tagged along with it when the bench sits in a different combination of judges.
Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra and Malhotra requested the bench that rejoinder affidavits being filed by the petitioners should be served upon them. Justice Rastogi said everything should be shared among the parties.
Bhat submitted that pleadings in the matter are over, and the court may take up the petitions for hearing in February. The bench agreed to list the petitions in February.
Justice Trivedi, last month, had opted out from hearing a plea filed by Bilkis Bano against the release of 11 convicts. Like the previous occasion, no reason was assigned for recusal.
In the plea, Bilkis Bano said release of all the convicts came as a shock not only to the petitioner, to her grown-up daughters, to her family, but also to the society at large, nationally, and internationally.
"The premature release of all the convicts came as a shock not only to the petitioner, to her grown up daughters, to her family, but also to the society at large, nationally and internationally, and the society across segments had shown their anger, disappointment, distrust and protest to the clemency shown by the Government by releasing criminals like the 11 convicts of the case," her petition said.
Terming the release order mechanical, the plea said the premature release of the convicts in much talked about case of Bilkis Bano, has shaken the conscience of the society and resulted in several agitations across the country. (SJ/IANS)