The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that the Gujarat government's response to petitions challenging the remission granted to 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano rape case is "very bulky", where, instead of factual statements, a series of judgments have been cited.
A bench, headed by Justice Ajay Rastogi, orally observed that he has not come across a counter affidavit where a series of judgments have been quoted.
"A very bulky counter. Where is the factual statement, where is the application of mind?" he asked.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Gujarat government, agreed with the observation made by the court and said it could have been avoided. "The judgments were mentioned for easy reference, it could have been avoided," he said.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing petitioners, submitted that he needed time to file the response in the matter.
Justice Rastogi observed that even before he could go through the state government's counter-affidavit, it was visible in the newspapers. Mehta vehemently argued that strangers and third parties cannot raise the challenge to the release of the convicts.
The bench, also comprising Justice C.T. Ravikumar, granted time to petitioners to file their response to the state government's counter-affidavit and scheduled the matter for further hearing on November 29.
In an affidavit, the Gujarat government told the Supreme Court that it decided to release the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano rape case as they had completed 14 years and above in prison and their behavior was found to be good and also the Centre had also conveyed its "concurrence/ approval".
The state government also added that the Superintendent of Police, CBI, Special Crime Branch, Mumbai, and the Special Civil Judge (CBI), City Civil and Sessions Court, Greater Bombay, had in March last year, opposed the premature release of the convicts.
The CBI official, in letters to the Superintendent of Godhra sub-jail, said the offense committed by the convicts was heinous, grave, and serious, hence they cannot be released prematurely.
In an affidavit, the state Home Department's Under Secretary said: "I say that the state government considered all the opinions and decided to release 11 prisoners since they have completed 14 years and above in prisons and their behavior was found to be good."
"The Government of India conveyed the concurrence/ approval of the Central Government under section 435 of the CrPC for premature release of 11 prisoners vide letter dated July 11, 2022," it added.
The affidavit said the state government considered the opinions of seven authorities --the Inspector General of Prisons, Gujarat, the Jail Superintendents, the Jail Advisory Committee, the District Magistrate, the Police Superintendent, the CBI, the Special Crime Branch, Mumbai, and the sessions court, Mumbai.
"After approval of the state government, orders have been issued on August 10, 2022, to release the prisoners. Hence, in the instant case, the state has considered the proposals under the policy of 1992 as directed by this court and not granted under the circular governing grant of remission to prisoners as part of the celebration of 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav'," added the affidavit.
The Gujarat government's response came on a plea has been filed by CPI-M's former MP Subhasini Ali, journalist Revati Laul, and Prof Roop Rekha Verma, challenging the release of 11 men convicted for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and multiple murders during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Petitions challenging the release of the convicts have been filed by Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra and others. (KB/IANS)