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The Complexities of Remission Policies: A Case Study of Bilkis Bano and the Supreme Court's Intervention

  • Published
    11th Jan, 2024
Context

Recent judicial proceedings have brought the remission policies of the Indian legal system under scrutiny, particularly in the case of 11 convicts involved in the gang rape of Bilkis Bano during the 2002 Gujarat communal riots.

Concepts involved: Clemency powers, the application of remission policies, and the need for adherence to legal procedures.

Legal and Constitutional Provisions:

  • The constitutional provisions under Article 72 and 161 empower the President and Governor, respectively, to grant pardon, commutation, remission, respite, or reprieve to a convict.
  • Additionally, Section 432 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) allows the appropriate State government to remit a convict's punishment, subject to certain conditions.
  • Notably, life imprisonment convicts can only be considered for remission after serving 14 years, as per Section 433A of the CrPC.
  • "Remission" in this context refers to the reduction or mitigation of the sentence or penalty imposed on a person.
  • It allows the executive authorities to use their discretion in considering factors such as the nature of the offense, the conduct of the convict, and other relevant circumstances to decide whether a reduction in the punishment is warranted.

Bilkis Bano Case:

  • The crimes in question occurred in Gujarat in 2002 but were later shifted to Maharashtra for a fair trial. In 2008, a CBI trial court in Mumbai sentenced the 11 convicts to life imprisonment.
  • In 2022, Radheshyam Shah, one of the convicts, sought remission under Gujarat's 'Remission policy' of 1992.
  • Despite legal discrepancies, the Gujarat government granted premature release to the convicts in August 2022, leading to a legal and moral quandary.

Current Debate:

  • The premature release raised legal concerns, primarily as the remission application should have been considered by the appropriate State government, which, in this case, was Maharashtra, where the sentencing occurred.
  • Furthermore, the presiding judge's opinion, a mandatory requirement under the CrPC, was not sought.
  • The Supreme Court, in its previous rulings such as Laxman Naskar versus Union of India (2000) and Sangeet versus State of Haryana (2012), established guidelines for remission consideration.
  • The court emphasized that remission should be granted on a case-by-case basis and not in a 'wholesale manner.'
  • The Gujarat government's 2014 revision of the 'Remission policy' excluded remission for those convicted of rape and murder, but the 2022 remission was based on the 1992 policy without such exclusions.

Supreme Court's Ruling:

  • In its recent order, the Supreme Court unequivocally declared the Gujarat government as inappropriate for considering the remission petitions.
  • The court deemed its previous order, directing the Gujarat government to consider the petitions, as null and void due to fraud and suppression of facts.
  • The 11 convicts were ordered to surrender to jail authorities within two weeks.
  • The Supreme Court's ruling has reaffirmed faith in the judicial system and the 'rule of law.'
  • The Maharashtra government is now tasked with considering the remission petitions in accordance with legal guidelines, particularly those outlined in the Laxman Naskar case, emphasizing that crimes affecting society at large deserve no wholesale mercy.
  • This case highlights the importance of strict adherence to legal procedures and the need for consistent and updated remission policies in the Indian legal framework.
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