Supreme Court judge, Justice Bela M. Trivedi, on Wednesday recused herself from hearing petitions challenging a Gujarat government decision to prematurely release 11 men sentenced to life imprisonment for gang-raping Bilkis Bano during the 2002 riots.
The petitions were filed by several individuals, including CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, TMC leader Mahua Moitra, and others.
Justice Trivedi had earlier recused from hearing a writ petition filed by Ms. Bano herself, challenging the premature release.
Justice Trivedi hails from Gujarat. She started her judicial career in the district judiciary in 1995. Justice Trivedi had worked in different posts like Registrar-Vigilance in the High Court, Law Secretary in the Gujarat government, CBI court judge, Special Judge, etc. She was elevated as a Gujarat High Court judge in February 2011.
The Bench, led by Justice Ajay Rastogi, tagged the third-party petitions of Ms. Ali and Ms. Moitra with that of Ms. Bano and ordered the case to be listed whenever Justice Trivedi was not a part of the Bench.
The court made it clear that the question of locus standi of the third parties did not arise anymore as Ms. Bano herself had approached the court against the release.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for Gujarat, and advocate Rishi Malhotra, for the accused, had both challenged the locus standi of “third party petitioners” to challenge the premature release”. They had dubbed the petitioners as “interlopers”.
Incidentally, a Review Bench led by Justice Rastogi had recently dismissed a petition filed by Ms. Bano to review a May 2022 judgment of the court. The judgment had cleared the path for Gujarat to consider and release the convicts, who were serving a life sentence in her case, under the State’s Premature Release Policy of 1992.
The Gujarat government had argued that the decision to release the convicts prematurely had been taken after following the procedure established by law.
“All the prisoners have completed 14 plus years in the prison under life imprisonment and opinions of the authorities concerned have been obtained as per the Premature Release Policy of 1992 and submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs vide letter dated June 28, 2022, and sought the approval of the Government of India. The Government of India conveyed the concurrence/approval of the Central Government under Section 435 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for premature release of 11 prisoners in a letter on July 11, 2022,” the 57-page affidavit had said.
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