[Bilkis Bano case] Gujarat government has set a bad precedent by granting remission to convicts: Justice UD Salvi

Justice Salvi, who had convicted and sentenced the 11 men, expressed displeasure over their premature release and the 'grand welcome' they received on release.
Justice UD Salvi
Justice UD Salvi

The decision of the Gujarat government to grant remission to the 11 convicts who gangraped Bilkis Bano and murdered her family members during the 2002 Godhra riots has set a bad precedent, said former Bombay High Court judge, Justice UD Salvi who had as trial judge convicted the 11 men.

Speaking to Bar & Bench, Justice Salvi said that the decision would have wide ramifications.

"A very bad precedent has been set. This is wrong, I would say. Now, convicts in other gang rape cases would seek similar reliefs," he said.

He opined that it is ironic that the State of Gujarat let the 11 men out of jail at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is urging Indians to respect women and avoid demeaning them.

"Certainly, this is an irony. Our PM spoke of women empowerment, and the State from where he comes, released these men, who gangraped a helpless woman," the judge said.

Justice Salvi had conducted the trial in the rape case and had convicted the 11 men and sentenced them to life imprisonment in 2008, when he presided as a special judge over a court designated to hear CBI cases in Mumbai.

He had also acquitted 7 accused.

The conviction and sentence of 11 were upheld in May 2017 by the Bombay High Court Bench of Justices Vijaya Tahilramani and Mridula Bhatkar, which also convicted 7 other men who were acquitted by Justice Salvi.

The 7 men convicted by High Court were sentenced to time already served in prison.

Justice Vijaya Tahilramani and Justice Mridula Bhatkar
Justice Vijaya Tahilramani and Justice Mridula Bhatkar

The State has now granted remission to the 11 convicts as per its 1992 policy. However, there is another policy formulated in 2014 based on the directives of the Supreme Court, which had invalidated the 1992 policy.

"I am given to understand that the Supreme Court had ordered the State government to consider the pleas of these convicts under the 1992 policy. Still...how can the top court of our nation can allow such a decision?" the judge wondered.

He pointed out that there isn't any clarity as to how the 1992 policy is made applicable to these convicts.

"There is no clarity if the State has made amendments to Section 376(2)g of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and its definition. Has the State changed the definition of gravity of this offence of gangrape? If there is a modification in its definition, then the 1992 policy would be applicable. But if the definition and gravity of gangrape continues to be the same without amendment, then the policy of 2014 would be applicable, which would mean they shouldn't be given remission," the judge explained.

The idea of punishment, the judge believes, is to make a person realise his guilt and that he has done something wrong.

"Punishment is given to ensure that it dawns upon the accused that he has done something wrong. The accused must be remorseful and express repentance. There isn't any clarity if these men have expressed such remorse or repentance in the present case. Have they expressed that they feel sorry and have realised their guilt?"

Lastly, the retired judge expressed his displeasure at the 'grand welcome' given to these men on their release.

"This is bad in taste. I don't know why people are welcoming them like this. I believe the people felicitating these convicts have political objectives and agenda. This shouldn't happen at all," the judge concluded.

Bano was gangraped in the wake of the 2002 riots and her three-year-old-daughter was among 12 people killed by a mob in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district in Gujarat.

The name of 11 convicts who have been set free are Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana.

Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Raj Kumar reportedly said that the convicts were released due to the “completion of 14 years” in jail and other factors such as “age, nature of the crime, behaviour in prison and so on”.

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