Supreme Court Gives Setalvad Interim Bail, Hauls Up Gujarat HC
"Is this the standard practice in Gujarat?"
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday granted activist Teesta Setalvad interim bail in the case lodged against her by the Gujarat government alleging she submitted fabricated documents to courts investigating the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat.
Setalvad was arrested from Mumbai by Ahmedabad Police on June 26.
The apex court directed the police to produce her before a magistrate on Saturday and release her on the conditions deemed appropriate. It asked Setalvad to surrender her passport until her plea for regular bail is heard by the Gujarat High Court.
The Supreme Court bench of CJI Uday Lalit and Justices Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia questioned the high court's actions.
Its order observed that Setalvad had been imprisoned for two months without police having filed a chargesheet in the case.
It said that while police had filed the first information report the very day after the Supreme Court judgment dismissing Zakia Jafri's plea (which questions the investigation into the Narendra Modi government's role in the Gujarat mass murders) the FIR did not add anything to the court's own observations.
"The offences Setalvad was charged with do not pertain to serious matters such as murder or bodily injury," it further said.
Questioning the High Court's listing the next hearing of the matter for six weeks later, it asked, "Is this the standard practice in Gujarat?"
It said that Setalvad being a "lady" should be treated with consideration.
Speaking about the order, lawyer Kawalpreet Kaur, who has been part of various cases including the Uttar Pradesh government case against Alt News founder Mohammed Zubair, told The Citizen it was a relief and a much awaited judgement.
"The Supreme Court was right in granting interim bail and asked pertinent questions from the State on what basis Gujarat HC denied her bail and kept matter pending for six weeks," she said. "That is not normal."
Setalvad had sought interim relief from the Supreme Court even as her plea for bail was kept pending before the Gujarat High Court.
The Gujarat state government has charged her along with former Director General of Police R.B. Sreekumar with conspiracy to "destabilise the government" after the 2002 Gujarat genocide.
The Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch arrested both late June reportedly on the basis of an FIR under sections 468 (forgery for cheating) and 194 (fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction for capital offences) of the Indian Penal Code.
Setalvad and Sreekumar had approached the High Court after their bail applications were rejected by the Ahmedabad city sessions court.
Zakia Jafri is the widow of Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who along with 68 others was brutally killed inside the gated Gulberg Society, a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood in Chamanpura, Ahmedabad, by a mob chanting Hindu slogans and in the presence of police, during the 2002 targeted attacks.
Later that year a Concerned Citizens Tribunal headed by former Justices Krishna Iyer, P.B Sawant and Hosbet Suresh concluded:
"Within hours of the Godhra arson, an organised carnage was planned and ruthlessly executed over the next 72 hours in 15 of Gujarat's 25 districts. It was apparent that thanks to the instructions from the state government, the administration and the police stood paralysed as the brutal massacres — Naroda Patiya and Gulberg society in Ahmedabad, Pandharwada in Panchmahal and Sardarpura, Unhava and Kadi in Mehsana apart from Nadiad – were clinically executed; yet the government of India turned a blind eye."
In June 2006, Jafri filed a police complaint against 63 persons including Modi alleging "deliberate and wilful dereliction of duty on the part of State officials in preventing the pogrom."
In 2008 the Supreme Court ordered the re-investigation of nine cases including the Gulberg Society mass murder. It set up a Special Investigation Team to look into Jafri's allegations. It ordered that trials and investigations for several cases be shifted outside the state, as witnesses were being threatened, and several of the accused were government officials and ministers.
These included Maya Kodnani, appointed women and child development minister in 2007 by Modi, while investigations were underway into her alleged role in leading the Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam massacres, in which 97 Muslims including 35 children were stabbed, dismembered and burnt alive by mobs and police.
They also included Amit Shah, who as former home minister was barred by the Supreme Court from entering the state of Gujarat in 2010 for a period of two years. Shah had been charged by the CBI in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh "fake encounter" case, in which witnesses were turning hostile. Sheikh, former state police officials had alleged, was involved in the 2003 daylight murder of Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya after he testified about Modi's role in orchestrating the riots.
The Special Investigation Team filed a closure report in 2012 stating that it had found no evidence to prosecute Modi. It differed from Supreme Court amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran, who had submitted that there was evidence to prosecute Modi and government officials.
The court then, ordered the SIT to provide a copy of its report to Jafri.
At the time Jafri told the media, "Now the real fight will begin. The court will have to listen to us before coming to any conclusion." Her son Tanveer said that they were waiting to see if the SIT's closure report contained the submissions made by Ramachandran..
On June 24 this year, however, the Supreme Court held that Jafri's appeal was "devoid of merits and deserves to be dismissed". In what legal experts and former judges termed an unprecedented move, it called upon the government to prosecute those who had "kept the pot boiling" in the case for years.
Kawalpreet Kaur called the judgement "shocking" and "regressive".
"The same happened in another case of Himanshu Kumar, wherein his case asked for investigation in alleged encounter of tribals. The recent trend where activists are being punished by the court for bringing cases to their attention, for being petitioner before the court and uncovering failure of the state is dangerous," she told The Citizen.
A social worker who has worked with Setalvad said her arrest was sad and has scared people around. "This was the intention of the state. They wanted to attack Teesta and send a message that if a person like her, who has connections and support, can be arrested, so can anyone," they said.
Said Kaur, "SC has given her interim bail until HC considers her case on merits. We can hope that HC see through the completely fabricated case and protects her personal liberty along with her right to voice criticism and seek accountability from State of Gujarat."
Former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt is third accused in the case.