The Supreme Court stated in the Bilkis Bano Case, "Obvious That You Don't Want Hearing."
The hearing on a number of petitions challenging the remission given last year to all 11 prisoners in the case of the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the death of her family members during the 2002 post-Godhra riots was postponed by the Supreme Court on Tuesday until May 9.
The top court stated, "It is evident, rather more than obvious, that you all do not want the hearing to be conducted by this bench," in response to several concerns presented by the prisoners' attorneys for not receiving the notification of Bano's plea. Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, who appeared in court on behalf of the Centre and the Gujarat government, informed a bench of Justices K M Joseph and B V Nagarathna that they are not asserting any privilege and are not making any arguments in support of a review of the court's March 27 order requesting the production of the original records with regard to the remission granted to the convicts.
In light of the fact that third parties occasionally contact courts in criminal cases, Tushar Mehta made preliminary concerns with regard to the petitions filed in the case that were not filed by Bano. He said that this would have significant repercussions.
The bench set May 9 for the hearing after hearing from many attorneys for the released convicts that they needed time to submit their responses to Ms. Bano's appeal.
"We are merely setting deadlines so that the court that hears the case won't have to spend time on these formalities. On June 16, during the break, I'm retiring. May 19 will be my last day of employment. Until May 25, my sister Justice Nagarathna will be in Singapore for a conference. If everyone is in agreement, we can continue hearing the case while on vacation "added Justice Joseph.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising and Vrinda Grover, two attorneys who represented the petitioners, concurred that the bench may hear the case over the summer break.
However, Mr. Mehta asked the court to list the matter before the vacation rather than during it.
"Not just in this situation, but in other cases, I won't be unavailable. I will have to make an exception for all cases once we make one exception "Mehta stated.
Because only a legal issue needs to be resolved, attorney Shobha Gupta predicted that the case would be resolved quickly.
"It is obvious that the counsel standing for the convicts do not want this hearing to take place," Judge Joseph told Gupta. Every time the subject is brought up, someone or other will appear and claim that he needs more time to submit a response. It is beyond obvious. It is rather obvious what is being attempted here, he continued. It is clear that none of you want this bench to conduct the hearing; in fact, it is more than clear.
To me, this is unfair. We were very clear when we held our previous hearing that the matter would be listed for final disposition on the next hearing date. Keep in mind that you are all court officers serving as the defendants' legal representatives. Remember what your part is. Regardless of whether you win or lose a lawsuit, remember your obligation to the court. The court subsequently announced that the case will be heard by a fresh bench for the final time in the second week of July.
After the counsel for Bilkis Bano and others requested that the matter be taken up before the break, senior advocate Siddharth and advocate Rishi Malhotra asked what was the "tearing hurry" in hearing the case.
"We have been freed and have been so for about a year. There should be no hurriedness, "added Malhotra.
A writ petition cannot be filed after a review of the main judgement has been dismissed, according to Supreme Court regulations, he said, and he wants to raise a few preliminary objections to Ms. Bano's writ suit against the remission.
Several of the solicitors representing the convicts claimed that two of their clients were out of town, but the petitioners claimed that these individuals had refused to accept the notice.
They asked for two weeks to respond to Ms. Bano's appeal in writing.
The court's counsel for the respondents may receive the notice there and submit their reply by May 9, according to Judge Nagarathna.
The bench ordered that notices be delivered to convicts whose solicitors are not present in court and who have not yet received them through local police stations. The court is aware that this is a blatant ploy by the justice to buy time before retiring, according to Justice Joseph.
On April 18, the top court questioned the Gujarat government on the pardons given to the 11 convicted individuals, stating the seriousness of the offence should have been taken into account. The court also questioned whether any application of mind had taken place.
The highest court had inquired as to the circumstances behind the prisoners' early release and had questioned the parole that had been given to them while they were inside. It had stated that the remission was a type of grace that should be appropriate given the offence.
Additionally, the Centre and the Gujarat government had informed the court that they might submit a request for a review of its March 27 order, requesting that they be prepared with the original files pertaining to the remission grant.
On March 27, the top court had requested information from the Gujarat government regarding whether uniform standards, as applied in other murder cases, were applied when granting remission to the 11 convicts. The court had described the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the killing of her family members during the 2002 post-Godhra riots as a "horrendous" act.
On Bano's petition, which challenges the sentences' commutation, it had requested responses from the Center, the Gujarati government, and others.
On August 15 of last year, the Gujarati government released all 11 prisoners after granting them pardons.
The top court is currently considering PILs submitted by Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra, independent journalist Revati Laul, former vice chancellor of Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma, and CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali opposing the release of the prisoners.
When Bikis Bano was gang-raped while escaping the riots that started after the Godhra train-burning tragedy, she was 21 years old and five months pregnant. One of her seven family members slain in the rioting was her three-year-old daughter.