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SC questions convicts in Bilkis Bano case for depositing fine without getting its nod

New Delhi, Aug 31: The Supreme Court on Thursday questioned convicts in the Bilkis Bano case for depositing fine without awaiting its decision on their interlocutory application, particularly when the final hearing is underway before it in the batch of pleas filed against the Gujarat government’s decision allowing their early release in the case of her gang rape and murder of her family members.

During the hearing, a bench of Justices B.V. Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan was apprised by senior advocate Sidharth Luthra that convicts have approached the trial court in Mumbai and have deposited the fine imposed upon them.

He contended that though non-deposition of fine does not affect the decision on remission, he had advised his clients to deposit the fine to “reduce the controversy”.

However, the bench questioned the deposition of the fine without awaiting the outcome of their application filed before the court.

“You seek permission and then you deposit without getting permission?” it asked.

The top court noted that the fine was not paid when the Gujarat government allowed release of these 11 convicts under its remission policy on August 15 last year.

Luthra told the apex court that the sessions court in Mumbai accepted the fine in normal against their apprehensions. He repeatedly argued that deposition or non-deposition of fine does not have any “legal consequence” in extending remission to a convict.

He reiterated that applications seeking early release were considered by the Gujarat government pursuant to an earlier order of the top court and remission order having an essence of judicial order cannot be challenged by way of filing a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution.

Earlier, it was pointed out before the Supreme Court that the convicts did not pay the fines imposed on them and non-payment of fine renders remission order illegal.

The court fixed the next hearing on September 14 and asked convicts to conclude their submission on that day.

The Centre, Gujarat government, and the convicts have opposed the public interest litigations (PILs) filed by CPI-M leader Subhashini Ali, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, National Federation of Indian Women, Asma Shafique Shaikh and others, saying that once the victim herself has approached the court, others may not be allowed to intervene in a criminal matter.

Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju had argued that remission is reduction of sentence and a PIL cannot be entertained on the question of sentence.

“Insofar as the quantum of sentence is concerned, a third party can never have a say,” he had said.

The 11 men convicted in the case were released on August 15 last year, after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy. The convicts had completed 15 years in jail.