Bilkis Bano case convicts were out of jail for around 1,000 days even before being released on remission of life sentence and one of them even got charge-sheeted for outraging the modesty of a women in 2020 while out on parole, the Gujarat government has told the Supreme Court.
A state government affidavit said all convicts were granted parole, furlough and even temporary bail at different points during their incarceration, with the highest being for 1,576 days and the lowest 998 days.
Out of the 11, Mitesh Chamanlal Bhatt was booked and charge-sheeted for offences under sections 354 (outraging the modesty of woman), 504 (insult intended to provoke breach of the peace) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of IPC, entailing a maximum sentence of 7 years, or fine, or both.
The information with regard to Bhatt (57) was given by the collector-cum-district magistrate of Dahod in his letter dated May 25, 2022 while putting forth his opinion about the prisoner's premature release under sections 432-433A of the CrPC. These sections relate to suspension and remission of punishment of convicts.
"Offence has been registered against the said applicant/accused prisoner Mitesh Chimanlal Bhatt registered in Randhikpur police station in Dahod district…IPC sections 354, 504, 506…and chargesheet has been filed and currently this case is pending on the board of the court and in the future, it guarantees that the accused agrees to uphold any future judgement given by the court in this case," the letter said.
It gave the date of the alleged incident as June 19, 2020 at 9.15 am and said since then Bhatt enjoyed 281 leaves out of the total 954 days parole, furlough leaves till date (May 25, 2022).
The collector further said, "On the records of all the police stations of Dahod district being summoned, neither any representation nor any memorandum nor any FIR has been found filed against the said prisoner namely Mitesh Chimanlal Bhatt, resident of Singwad…during his parole furlough leave that may lead to communal conflict between Hindu-Muslim."
He gave no objection to the premature release of Bhatt after taking into account the opinion of Police Sub-Inspector, Randhikpur, and Deputy Superintendent of Police of Limkheda.
The state government had filed its affidavit in reply to a PIL moved by Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Subhashini Ali and others challenging the remission of sentence and release of convicts in the 2002 case.
The affidavit said the 11 convicts, including Jaswant Chaturbhai Nai, had enjoyed 950 days of parole and 219 days of furlough (total-1169 days), Kesharbhai Khimabhai Vahoniya (972+203: Total 1175 days), Govindbhai Akhambhai Nai (986+216: total 1202 days), Shaileshbhai Chimanlal Bhatt (934+163 + 6 days temporary bail: total 1103 days), Bipinchandra Kanaiyalal Joshi (909+170: total 1079 days).
It further said convict Pradip Ramanlal Modhia got 1011 days parole and 223 days furlough (Total: 1234 days), Bakabhai Khimabhai Vahoniya (807+191: total 998 days), Rajubhai Babulal Soni (1166+182: total 1348 days), Rameshbhai Rupabhai Chandana (1198+378: total 1576 days), Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah (895+154: total 1049 days) and Miteshbhai Chimalal Bhatt (771+234: total 1005 days).
Convicted prisoners are granted different temporary reliefs by way of parole and furlough as per the state law to give them a chance to remain in touch with their families and society.
Parole is usually granted for a specific reason to the prisoner, while furlough, which is relatively a short-term relief, is allowed for a maximum period of 14 days.
On Tuesday, the top court had remarked that the Gujarat government's reply to the pleas challenging the remission granted to 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang-rape case was very bulky wherein a series of judgments had been quoted but factual statements were missing.
The top court granted time to the petitioners to file their response to the Gujarat government's affidavit and said it will hear on November 29 the pleas challenging the remission of sentence and release of convicts in the 2002 case also involving the murder of seven members of Bilkis' family during the Gujarat riots.
The state government had defended in the apex court its decision to release the convicts in accordance with the 1992 remission policy since they had completed more than 14 years in prison and their conduct was found to be good.
It also clarified the convicts were not granted remission in consonance with the circular for grant of remission to prisoners as part of 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav' celebrations.
The state home department said all the convicts had completed more than 14 years in prison under life imprisonment and the Centre had approved their premature release vide letter dated July 11, 2022.
The affidavit has also disclosed the proposal for the premature release of the convicts was opposed by the Superintendent of Police, CBI, Special Crime Branch, Mumbai and the Special Civil Judge (CBI), City Civil and Sessions Court, Greater Bombay.
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five-month pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven family members killed.
The 11 men convicted in the case walked out free from the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release.