Pursuit of Justice and Controversies: Bilkis Bano Case

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Introduction: The Bilkis Bano case, stemming from the 2002 Gujarat riots, remains a poignant chapter in legal history. Amidst the horrifying gangrape of Bilkis Bano and the tragic loss of seven family members, justice became a focal point.

However, recent events, including the controversial remission and subsequent Supreme Court intervention, have reignited discussions on the complexities surrounding remissions in heinous crimes.

Background of the Bilkis Bano Case

In the 2002 Gujarat riots, Bilkis Bano, who was expecting a child, suffered a horrific gangrape, while a violent mob took the lives of seven of her family members, including her three-year-old daughter.

Legal Proceedings and Investigation

After extensive legal proceedings, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took charge of investigating the case. In 2004, the Supreme Court decided to move the trial from Gujarat to Mumbai due to threats against Bilkis’ life. Additionally, the central government was directed to appoint a special public prosecutor for the case.

Convictions and Pursuit of Justice

In 2008, a Mumbai court convicted 11 individuals for their roles in the gangrape and murder, marking a significant milestone in the pursuit of justice for Bilkis Bano.

Controversial Remission and Release

In August 2022, the release of 11 convicts was authorized by the Gujarat government through the granting of remission. This move sparked controversy and legal disputes, prompting questions about the entity and jurisdiction empowered to make decisions regarding such remissions.

Supreme Court’s Nullification

Recently, the Supreme Court nullified the Gujarat government’s decision to grant remission to the 11 convicts involved in the Bilkis Bano case. This ruling has brought attention back to the pursuit of justice and the complexities surrounding remissions in cases of heinous crimes.

Supreme Court’s Ruling on Gujarat Government’s Remission Grant Nullification

Lack of Authority and Concealed Facts

In nullifying the Gujarat government’s remission grant, the Supreme Court highlighted the absence of authority and jurisdiction in the government’s actions. While acknowledging that state governments, under Section 432 of the CrPC, possess the power to suspend or remit a sentence, the court emphasized the significance of Section 7(b) of the law. This section explicitly states that the appropriate government for remission decisions is the one within whose jurisdiction the offender is sentenced. The court stressed that the authority to grant remission should lie with the state where the convicts were sentenced, rather than where the crime occurred or where they were incarcerated.

Critique of the Remission Procedure

The court underscored significant deficiencies in the remission process, noting that the orders lacked thorough consideration and were obtained through the concealment of facts, amounting to a fraudulent act upon the court.

Excessive Authority and Illegitimate Power Usage

The court condemned the Gujarat government’s overreach, asserting that it illegitimately wielded power that rightfully belonged to the Maharashtra government when issuing remission orders.

Instructions and Denial of Freedom Appeal

Dismissing the plea of the convicts to safeguard their liberty, the court-mandated their surrender to jail authorities within a span of two weeks.

Definition of Remission

Remission entails the full conclusion of a sentence with a reduced duration, differing from both furlough and parole as it involves a sentence reduction rather than a temporary break from prison life

It involves reducing the duration of a sentence without altering its nature. For instance, a sentence of five years of rigorous imprisonment can be reduced to one year of rigorous imprisonment through remission.

Characteristics of Remission

In the context of remission, the essential nature of the sentence remains unchanged, while the duration is shortened. This means that the remaining part of the sentence does not have to be served.

Legal Implications of Remission

The consequence of remission is that the prisoner is assigned a specific date on which they will be released, and, in the eyes of the law, they are considered a free individual. However, if any of the conditions of remission are violated, the remission can be revoked, and the offender may have to serve the entire original sentence.

Constitutional Provisions on Pardon Power

The Constitution grants both the President and the Governor the sovereign authority of pardon.

Article 72 empowers the President to grant pardons, reprieves, respites, or remissions of punishment and to suspend, remit, or commute the sentence of any person. This authority extends to cases involving court-martial, offences under laws related to the Union government’s executive power, and instances of death sentences.

Article 161 confers upon the Governor the ability to grant pardons, reprieves, respites, or remissions of punishment, and to suspend, remit, or commute sentences. This authority applies to individuals convicted under laws falling within the State’s executive power.

Comparison of Pardon Powers

The scope of the President’s pardoning power under Article 72 is broader than that of the Governor under Article 161, encompassing a wider range of cases and circumstances.

Legal Authority for Remission

The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) outlines provisions for the remission of prison sentences, allowing for the complete or partial cancellation of a sentence.

As per Section 432, the ‘appropriate government’ holds the authority to suspend or remit a sentence, whether in its entirety or partially, and this can be done with or without imposing conditions.

Section 433 provides that the appropriate government has the discretion to commute any sentence to a lesser one.

This statutory power is granted to State governments, enabling them to authorize the release of prisoners before the completion of their designated prison terms.

Significant Remission Cases

Laxman Naskar v. State of West Bengal (2000)

In this case, the Supreme Court established the criteria influencing the grant of remission. These factors include:

Whether the offense an isolated act without a broader societal impact?

The likelihood of future criminal recurrence by the convict.

The diminished potentiality of the convict to commit further crimes.

The necessity or purposefulness of continued confinement for the convict.

The socio-economic condition of the convict’s family.

Epuru Sudhakar v. State of AP (2006)

In this case, the Supreme Court emphasized that judicial review of remission orders is permissible on specific grounds, such as:

Non-application of mind in making the decision.

The presence of malice in the order.

The order being based on extraneous or entirely irrelevant considerations.

Relevant materials not being taken into account.

The presence of arbitrariness in the remission order.

conclusion

The Bilkis Bano case serves as a stark reminder of the challenges in balancing justice and legal intricacies. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling sheds light on the necessity for adherence to established legal procedures, particularly in cases of heinous crimes. As discussions persist, the case continues to shape the discourse on remissions, prompting a closer examination of the legal authority, constitutional provisions, and ethical considerations surrounding the remission process.

Frequently asked questions

What is the Bilkis Bano case?

The Bilkis Bano case involves the brutal gangrape of Bilkis Bano during the 2002 Gujarat riots, along with the murder of seven family members, including her three-year-old daughter.
 

How did legal proceedings unfold in the Bilkis Bano case?

After extensive legal proceedings, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took charge of the case. In 2004, the Supreme Court moved the trial from Gujarat to Mumbai due to threats against Bilkis’ life, and a Mumbai court convicted 11 individuals in 2008.

What led to the controversial remission and release of the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case?

In August 2022, the Gujarat government granted remission to the 11 convicts, leading to their release, which sparked controversy and legal challenges.
 

What statutory power governs the remission of prison sentences in India?

The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) provides for remission of prison sentences under Section 432, allowing the appropriate government to suspend or remit a sentence, either wholly or partially, with or without conditions.

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