Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Thursday dismissed the appeals filed by 11 men convicted in the Bilkis Bano gang-rape and murder case and upheld the life sentence given to them by the trial court.
While upholding the life sentence given to the convicts, the high court also dismissed an appeal by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) seeking death sentence to at least three of them.
The CBI had sought death penalty, citing it as a "rarest of rare case" in its appeal. Death penalty must be awarded to three out of 11 people convicted in the case to send out a "stern message", the agency had maintained in its plea.
The court also set aside the acquittal of five policemen in the same case and directed the agency to probe them.
On March 3, 2002, 17 people, including pregnant Bilkis Bano, were attacked in Devgarh Baria village of Dahod district in Gujarat, in the aftermath of the Godhra train carnage.
While eight people were killed, six others were reported missing and three - Bilkis Bano and her two family members, master Hussain and Sadaam - survived.
A special court in Mumbai later convicted eleven men - Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandana - for the gang-rape of Bilkis and murder of her family members on January 21, 2008 and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
The 11 convicts had then challenged their conviction in the Bombay HC.
A division bench of justice VK Tahilramani and Mridula Bhatkar had set aside the acquittals of some Gujarat police officials and two government hospital doctors, who the CBI had accused of tampering with evidence and Bilkis’ statement.
The bench had reserved judgment on the appeals in November last year, after conducting a day-to-day hearing on both the pleas for about five months.
The CBI, however, moved HC seeking enhancement of punishment for Jaswantbai Nai, Govindbhai Nai and Radhesham Shah, saying the three played a significant role in “pre-planning and executing” the entire incident.
It had also said all three of them raped Bilkis, her sister and her mother and had been identified by her.
The CBI also urged the court to overturn the clean chit granted to five Gujarat Police officials, arguing they were complicit with those convicted in the case.
The defence’s primary argument in the case was that Bilkis’ testimony was “full of contradictions” and ought to be disbelieved by the court.
Defence counsel, senior advocate Harshad Ponda, argued before the HC Bilkis’ entire testimony was “bogus” and that the CBI had gone on to back her story by “fabricating evidence.”