The Gujarat government on 15th August released 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano murder and gangrape case of 2002 under its remission and premature release policy after one of the convicts moved the Supreme Court.


What was the Bilkis Bano case?

  • On January 21, 2008, a special CBI court in Mumbai had sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment on the charge of gang-rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family in Ahmedabad, Gujarat in 2002.
    • The Supreme Court had transferred the trial to Maharashtra after Bilkis Bano faced death threats in Gujarat.
  • These convicts had served more than 15 years in jail after which one of them approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release.
  • The Supreme Court had directed the Gujarat government to look into the issue of remission of his sentence following which the government formed a committee to look into the matter.
  • On 15th August 2022, the Gujarat government, on the recommendation of this committee, released all the 11 convicts in the case.


Pardoning power of Governor

  • Under Article 161 of the Constitution, the Governor of a state possesses the pardoning power.
  • A Governor can grant pardons, reprieves, respites and remissions of punishment or suspend, remit and commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence against a state law.
    • The advice of the state cabinet is binding on the Governor in matters relating to commutation/remission of sentences under Article 161.
    • Also, the orders passed by the Governor, under Article 161, can be subjected to judicial review.
  • Pardoning Powers of the Governor include –
    • Pardon – removes both the sentence and the conviction and completely absolves the convict from all sentences, punishments and disqualifications.
      • However, Governor of a state does not have the power to pardon a death sentence.
      • The power to pardon a death sentence lies with the President.
    • Commutation – denotes the substitution of one form of punishment for a lighter form.
      • g., a death sentence may be commuted to rigorous imprisonment.
    • Remission – implies reducing the period of sentence without changing its character.
      • g., a sentence of rigorous imprisonment for two years may be remitted to rigorous imprisonment for one year.
    • Respite – denotes awarding a lesser sentence in place of one originally awarded due to some special fact, such as the physical disability of a convict or the pregnancy of a woman offender.
    • Reprieve – It implies a stay of the execution of a sentence (especially that of death) for a temporary period.


Grounds for Remission

  • Prison is a State subject under Schedule VII of the Constitution and hence state governments have powers under Section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to remit sentences.
  • States set up a Sentence Review Board to exercise the powers under Section 432 of the CrPC.
  • While the policy varies from state to state, broadly the grounds for remission considered by the Board are the same.
  • The Supreme Court has held that states cannot exercise the power of remission arbitrarily, and must follow due process.


Guidelines to be followed while granting Remission

  • In ‘Laxman Naskar v. Union of India’ (2000) case, the Supreme Court laid down five grounds on which remission is considered –
      • Whether the offence is an individual act of crime that does not affect the society;
      • Whether there is a chance of the crime being repeated in future;
      • Whether the convict has lost the potentiality to commit crime;
      • Whether any purpose is being served in keeping the convict in prison; and
      • Socio-economic conditions of the convict’s family.
  • Also, convicts serving life sentences are entitled to seek remission after serving a minimum of 14 years in prison.