Ten of the 11 men sentenced to life imprisonment for the 2002 gangrape of Bilkis Bano were out of jail for more than 1000 days each — on parole, furlough, temporary bail — and the 11th for 998 days, before all were released for “good behaviour” by the Gujarat government on August 15 this year.
According to the Gujarat government’s affidavit before the Supreme Court, Ramesh Chandana (58) was out of jail for 1576 days (parole totalling 1198 days and furlough 378 days) — the maximum among the 11 convicts.
Parole and furlough are temporary releases from custody.
Usually with a maximum duration of one month, parole is granted for a specific reason in case of short-term imprisonment, while furlough is usually for a maximum duration of 14 days after serving a specified minimum period in a long-term sentence. While no reason is needed for seeking furlough, it does not confer any legal right on the prisoner.
On Monday, the Gujarat government told the Supreme Court that it decided to release the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case as they had “completed 14 years and above in prison… their behaviour was found to be good” and the Centre had also “conveyed (its concurrence/approval)”.
In its affidavit filed in response to petitions challenging the remission granted to the prisoners, the Gujarat government also said that in March 2021, the “Superintendent of Police, CBI, Special Crime Branch, Mumbai” and “the Special Civil Judge (CBI), City Civil and Sessions Court, Greater Bombay” had opposed the early release of the prisoners.
Bilkis was gangraped and her three-year-old daughter was among 14 people killed by a mob on March 3, 2002, in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district, during the Gujarat riots. Bilkis was pregnant at the time.
The jail advisory committee, while granting consent to the release of the 11 convicts, recorded that the decision was being taken on account of the prisoners having completed “14 years in prison” and the Godhra sub-district jail authority’s remark that the conduct of the prisoners had been “good throughout (their) stay in jail”.
The time Chandana spent out of jail on parole and furlough before his release amounted to over four years. And between January and June 2015, a 14-day furlough turned to 136 days after he was late by 122 days to turn himself in.
Details in the Gujarat affidavit make it clear that the 11 convicts got an average of 1176 days of leave each — furlough, parole and temporary bail. Only one of them, Bakabhai Vahoniya (57), was out of jail for a total of 998 days.
Rajubhai Soni (58) was on leave for a total of 1348 days with a 197-day late surrender between September 2013 and July 2014. Soni’s 90-day parole from Nashik jail turned to a 287-day leave, owing to the late surrender.
The oldest among the 11, Jaswant Nai (65), was out for a total of 1169 days with a 75-day late surrender in 2015 at Nashik jail.
In August, The Indian Express reported how the 11 convicts had been out on frequent parole and furlough during their prison tenure, and several witnesses in the case had complained of threats.
The Gujarat affidavit, which includes all the documents that were relied upon by the state government to grant consent to the premature release of the convicts, shows that the Dahod SP had said that when the victim and her relatives were asked for their opinion on the premature release of Radheshyam Shah, they had “categorically said not to release him prematurely” and an entry to that effect was made in the station diary.
Owing to this, the Dahod SP had given a negative opinion on Radheshyam’s release.
The Dahod SP was not the only one. Other than the CBI and the Special CBI court in Mumbai, the Dahod Collector, the Additional DGP (Prisons) and the Principal District and Sessions Judge of Godhra also objected.
While seeking the approval and opinion of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Gujarat Home Department only stated that “the State Government agrees with the recommendation of the jail advisory committee headed by the Collector… and out of 10 members, 9 members have recommended for early release and recommends premature release of Shri Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah”.
State Secretary (Home), Raj Kumar, told The Indian Express that the government had already placed the facts before the court on oath. “The matter is sub judice and I cannot comment any further,” he said.
Inputs from Aditi Raja in Vadodara