Godhra: All the eleven convicts sentenced to life imprisonment for the 2002 post-Godhra Bilkis Bano gang rape and murder of seven members of her family on Monday walked out of Godhra sub-jail after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy, an official said. A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, sentenced the eleven accused to life imprisonment on the charge of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court. These convicts had served more than 15 years in jail after which one of them approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release. The apex court had directed the Gujarat government to look into the issue of remission of his sentence following which the government formed a committee, said Panchmahals Collector Sujal Mayatra, who headed the panel.

“A committee formed a few months back took a unanimous decision in favour of remission of all the 11 convicts in the case. The recommendation was sent to the state government, and yesterday we received the orders for their release,” said Mayatra.

After the violence erupted following the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach that killed 59 ‘karsevaks ‘on February 27, 2002, Bilkis Bano, who was five-month pregnant at that time, fled her village with her toddler daughter and 15 others. On March 3, they took shelter in a field when a mob of 20-30 people armed with sickles, swords and sticks attacked them and Bilkis Bano was gang raped, while seven members of her family were killed. Six other members managed to run away.

Given the outrage over the incident, the Supreme Court ordered a CBI probe. The accused in the case were arrested in 2004.

The trial began in Ahmedabad. However, after Bilkis Bano expressed apprehensions that witnesses could be harmed and the evidence collected by the CBI tampered with, the Supreme Court transferred the case to Mumbai in August 2004.

The special CBI court on January 21, 2008, sentenced the eleven accused to life imprisonment on the charge of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family. They were convicted on charges of conspiring to rape a pregnant woman, murder and unlawful assembly under the Indian Penal Code.

The special court acquitted seven other accused for want of evidence. One of the accused had died during the trial.

In its 2018 order upholding the conviction of the accused persons, the Bombay High Court set aside the acquittal of seven persons.

The Supreme Court, in April 2019, directed the Gujarat government to pay Rs 50 lakh compensation, a job, and a house to Bilkis Bano.

The 11 convicts who were granted premature release are Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandana.

One of them, Radheshyam Shah, had approached the Gujarat High Court seeking remission of the sentence under sections 432 and 433 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The high court dismissed his plea while observing that the “appropriate government” to decide about his remission is Maharashtra and not Gujarat.

Shah then filed a plea in the Supreme Court pleading that he had been in jail for 15 years and 4 months without remission as of April 1, 2022. In its order dated May 13, the top court stated that since the crime was committed in Gujarat, the state of Gujarat was the appropriate government to examine Shah’s application.

The SC directed the Gujarat government to consider the application for premature release in terms of the policy dated July 9, 1992, and may decide within two months.

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