The Supreme Court on Friday said it will hear after three weeks the pleas challenging the remission of sentence and release of 11 convicts in the 2002 Bilkis Bano gang-rape case and murder of her seven family members during the Gujarat riots.
The top court asked the counsel for the Gujarat government to place before it the relevant records within two weeks.
The matter came up for hearing before a bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and B V Nagarathna.
On August 25, the top court had sought responses from the Centre and the Gujarat government to a petition challenging the remission granted to the 11 convicts in the case.
The court had issued notice on a plea filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revathy Laul and activist Roop Rekha Rani.
It had asked the petitioners to implead the 11 convicted persons, who have been granted remission, as parties in the matter.
TMC MP Mahua Moitra has also filed a separate plea in the top court challenging the grant of remission and her petition was also listed for hearing on Friday.
During the hearing, advocate Rishi Malhotra, appearing for one of the 11 convicts, said the petitioners have on Thursday filed an application to implead these persons as respondents.
"Notices have to go to the impleaded respondents," he said.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the petitioners, said they have complied with the top court's earlier direction.
"Why you have filed an application for adjournment?" the bench asked Malhotra, who said notices have to go to the impleaded respondents and they have to file their replies.
He said multiple petitions have been filed in the matter.
"I am against this impleadment business in a criminal matter," he said, while objecting to the locus of the petitioners.
The bench told Malhotra that 11 persons have been impleaded as party respondents in the lead matter and he can accept notices on their behalf.
Malhotra said he has been appearing for only one of them and he would have to take instructions.
The bench said copy of the petitions be served to him as well as the counsel for the state. Malhotra said issuance of notice would not be necessary in the other petitions as they are asking for the same thing.
The bench asked when the line and cause of action was the same, why multiple pleas have been filed.
One of the advocates, who was appearing for the petitioners in a separate plea filed in the matter, said the prayers in their petition are slightly different.
The bench asked the state's counsel to file the relevant records within two weeks and said rejoinder, if any, be submitted within one week thereafter.
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five-month pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven family members killed.
The 11 men convicted in the case walked out free from the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy. They had completed more than 15 years in jail.
While hearing the matter last month, the top court had observed that the question is whether there was application of mind while considering remission and whether it was within the parameters of law.
The plea referred to the sequence of events of the case recorded in judicial files and said, "It is submitted that on such facts, no right thinking authority applying any test under any extant policy would consider it fit to grant remission to persons who are found to have been involved in the commission of such gruesome acts."
"It is further submitted that it would appear that the constitution of members of the competent authority of the respondent No.1 (state of Gujarat) also bore allegiance to a political party, and also was sitting MLAs. As such, it would appear that the competent authority was not an authority that was entirely independent, and one that could independently apply its mind to the facts at hand," it said and quoted media reports to buttress its contention.
The investigation in the case was handed over to the CBI and the trial was transferred to a Maharashtra court by the Supreme Court.
A special CBI court in Mumbai had on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 to life imprisonment on charges of gang-rape of Bilkis Bano and murder of seven members of her family. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)