The Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned the hearing in Bilkis Bano case owing to the concerns raised by counsel, NDTV reported.
The bench, comprising of Justice K.M Joseph and B.V Nagarantha was hearing Bilkis Bano's plea challenging the decision of the Gujarat state government concerning the release of the 11 men convicted for her rape and the murder of her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots. After objections raised by the counsel, the case was adjourned and re-scheduled.
“The hearing will take place after the vacations", the bench said, noting that they would also hear it again on May 9th but merely to complete formalities in the hearing. It would next be listed after the holidays in front of a new bench.
All of this happened, as the counsel for some of the convicts presented to the bench what were apparently some procedural issues with the case, and said they were yet to be served notice in the matter, pointing out the notice could not be completed as two of the respondents were out of station at the time. The counsel said, "In the affidavit filed on behalf of the victim… a serious fraud has been played"
Consequently, the report quoting the bench said it would list the matter for May 9 for directions to lay down the timeline so the case can be re-heard when the court opens after summer vacation.
However, Justice Joseph expressed his displeasure at the latest adjournment, noting that it was obvious that "they don't want us to hear the matter". To substantiate this, Justice Joseph pointed out he was retiring on June 16, and the case would next be heard after the honorable Justice was in retirement. He asserted that the intent was clear, they did not want him to hear the case. Advocate Shobha Gupta appearing for Bilkis Bano agreed with the Judge, re-affirming his assertion by adding, "“They would not allow this matter to proceed ever” and urged the bench to let her start her arguments.
“A new bench will also be formed to hear the case,” it was later announced.
Earlier, Centre and the State through Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta submitted to the court that they were not “pressing a claim of privilege” over records pertaining to the release of the convicts nor were they intent on filing any plea seeking review of the court’s order directing production of those records. “I have the record. We will show it to the court,” SG Mehta told the court. .
In March this year when the matter was first listed in front of the bench, the Court had termed the Bilkis Bano gang-rape and the murder of her family a "horrendous" act. It had also asked the Gujarat government whether it applied uniform standards, as followed in other cases of murder, with regard to the granting of remission to the 11 convicts.
"Like you cannot compare apples with oranges, similarly massacre cannot be compared with single murder... Today it is Bilkis but tomorrow it can be anyone. It may be you or me," the court had said.
Bilkis Bano had approached the Supreme Court in November last year challenging what she called "premature" release of the 11 convicts by the Gujarat government. The remission of their sentence has "shaken the conscience of society", she had said in her petition.
Towards that end, after expressing his displeasure, Justice Joseph ended by asserting that they would try to finish the matter by the 19th of May if possible, so that the apparent nefarious re-scheduling would be rendered moot. This followed Advocate Indira Jaising's suggestion that the court hold hearings during the vacation. The bench augured to this, and said that it was willing to sit during the vacations, with Justice Joseph declaring that although his last working day was May 19 owing to his impending retirement, he had no problem sitting through the vacations.