'Justice is supreme': Why the SC cancelled remission of sentences in Bilkis Bano case

Suchitra Kalyan Mohanty

It was a day of victory for Gujarat riots victim Bilkis Bano after the Supreme Court in its verdict on Monday quashed the state government’s decision to grant remission to 11 convicts. All of them were sentenced to life terms in 2008 for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and murder of her family members in the riots.

The remission came after one of the convicts Radheyshyam Shah had filed a writ petition. "The state of Gujarat acted in tandem and was complicit with the convict," the top court said in its 251-page verdict, a copy of which was accessed by TNIE, while directing all 11 convicts to surrender within two weeks in the case.

A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice B V Nagarathna and also comprising Justice Ujjal Bhuyan, had reserved its verdict on October 12 last year.

'Misled the Court'

The apex court in its judgement held that the state of Gujarat was not competent to pass the remission orders. It also said that Bilkis Bano's petition challenging the remission is maintainable.

"The government of the state of Gujarat had no jurisdiction to entertain the prayers seeking remission of respondent numbers (convicts) 1 to 13, as it was not the appropriate government within the meaning of the provisions. Hence, the orders of remission of August 10, 2022 made in favour of them are illegal, vitiated and therefore, quashed," the bench of the apex court said.

It refused to answer the point regarding the maintainability of the PILs since Bilkis Bano's petition is already held to be maintainable.

The apex court also pulled up the Gujarat government and said to uphold the rule of law, the convicts must go back to jail and could not be allowed to roam free.

The top court also said that its previous judgement by a separate bench on May 13, 2022, allowing the Gujarat government to decide on the remission plea of one of the convicts, was void.  That order had held that the application for remission should be considered in line with the policy of the state where the crime was committed, and not where the trial was carried out. However, in its latest judgment, the Supreme Court said this was wrong, and said only the state where an offender is tried and sentenced is competent to decide the remission plea of convicts.

It blamed the Gujarat government for not seeking a review of the order.

"Previous orders clearly indicate why this court had transferred the investigation and the trial. The state of Gujarat never sought a review of this court's May 2022 order by bringing to its notice that it was contrary to Section 432 CrPC and earlier judgments," it noted, adding, "The order of remission by Gujarat government has to be quashed for lacking competence."

Rule of Law

Finally, it said, it was forced to choose between the rule of law, justice and the "arguments with an emotional appeal" urging it to let the convicts remain free.

However, said the court, rule of law is a prerequisite to justice and serves as the cornerstone of all other rights, including right to liberty, and without it, neither justice nor any other right would survive. “Rule of law does not mean protection to a fortunate few. The very existence of the rule of law and the fear of being brought to book operates as a deterrent to those who have no scruples in killing others if it suits their ends."

Moreover, it noted that it could not be unmindful of the conduct of these convicts, particularly respondent No.3 ( Radheyshyam) who had abused the process of law and the court in obtaining remission.

"If the convicts can circumvent the consequences of their conviction, peace, tranquility and harmony in society will be reduced to a chimera," the order said.

The court noted that judiciary has a duty to uphold the rule of law, when it is seen to be sullied, and restore people's faith in the concept.

"The faith of the people in the efficacy of law is the saviour and succour for the sustenance of the rule of law. Justice is supreme and justice ought to be beneficial for the society. Law courts exist for the society and ought to rise to the occasion to do the needful in the matter. Respect for law is one of the cardinal principles for an effective operation of the Constitution, law and the popular government.

"The faith of the people is the source to invigorate justice intertwined with the efficacy of law. Therefore, it is the primary duty and the highest responsibility of this court to correct arbitrary orders at the earliest and maintain the confidence of the litigant public in the purity of the fountain of justice and thereby respect rule of law," it said.


After the pronouncement of the judgement in the case, lawyer Vrinda Grover said that it is a very good judgement which has upheld the rule of law and the faith of the people of this country, particularly the women, in the legal system, the courts, and that there is an assurance for justice.

The Gujarat government's remission to all the 11 convicts created a huge public outrage.

The 11 convicts who were set free by the Gujarat government 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.

Initially, a bunch of Public Interest Litigations (PIL) were filed in the Supreme Court by private parties, including Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Subhashini Ali, Professor Rooplekha Verma, journalist Revati Laul, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, former IPS officer Meeran Chadha Borwankar and the National Federation of Indian Women.

Bano had, after this, moved the top court challenging the remission granted to the 11 convicts.

She pointed out that the remission was granted despite the objections raised by the presiding judge and the investigating officer to the premature release.

Bano had argued that the release of the prisoners, who committed horrific crimes against herself and her family members, have caused fear and emotional trauma to her.

"Eight minors were killed, including Bilkis' three-and-a-half-year-old child, whose head was smashed into a rock. A pregnant woman was gang-raped. A woman who had, just at that time just delivered a child, was raped and murdered. There were 14 counts of murder in total. It's heartwrenching to read about the condition in which the bodies were discovered," said Bano's lawyer Shobha Gupta.