Teesta Setalvad Bail Plea: SC Seeks Response from the Gujarat Govt.
Case to be heard on August 25, Bench will consider granting interim relief
The Supreme Court has sought a response from the Gujarat State Government, on the matter of Teesta Setalvad's bail plea. The case has been scheduled to be heard on Thursday, August 25, wherein the Bench will consider granting the appellant interim relief despite the pending proceedings before the Gujarat High Court. The Bench will be led by Justices U.U Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia.
Setalvad is a Mumbai-based activist and founding trustee of Citizens for Justice and Peace, and has been under judicial custody at the Sabarmati Central Jail, Ahmedabad. Setalvad is accused of having allegedly manufactured evidence of conspiracy in the Gujarat riots of 2002, and has been in jail since Saturday, June 25.
Setalvad's bail plea along with that of former Gujarat Police Chief R.B Sreekumar had been denied as recently as July 30, by Additional Principal Judge D.D Thakkar. The two were arrested a day after the judgement on the issue of whether or not Ehsan Jafri's killing during the Godhra violence was a culmination of a state conspiracy by virtue of which the Court discarded the allegations of a larger state conspiracy in the Godhra riots of 2002. The case was being pursued by his widow Zakia Jafri.
The Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the case against Sreekumar have also summoned former IPS Officer Rahul Sharma for a statement to be recorded on August 27.
On this case, the bench, consisting of judges A.M Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheswari and C.T Ravikumar, had held that "in light of [its] timely corrective measures … in right earnest and repeated public assurances given by the then Chief Minister [and now Prime Minister, Narendra Modi] that [those] guilty would be punished for their crime(s), and to maintain peace, it would be beyond comprehension of any person of ordinary prudence to bear suspicion about the meeting of minds of named offenders and hatching of conspiracy by the State at the highest level, as alleged, much less grave or strong suspicion as being the quintessence for sending the accused for trial for an offence of criminal conspiracy."
A few days after Setalvad and Sreekumar were arrested, a statement was issued by a group of leading academics from the United Kingdom, United States of America and Germany, expressing distress over the recent judgements passed by the Supreme Court, with specific regard to the Zakia Jafri's case. The signatories of this statement issued on Friday, August 19, were - Bhiku Parekh, House of Lords, London, U.K, Noam Chomsky, Professor emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Professor, University of Arizona, U.S.A, Arjun Appadurai, Professor, Max Planck Institute, Germany, Wendy Brown, Professor, Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton, U.S.A, Sheldon Pollock, Professor Emeritus, Columbia University, U.S.A, Carol Rovane, Professor, Columbia University, U.S.A, Charles Taylor, Professor Emeritus, McGill University, Canada, Martha Nussbaum, Professor, University of Chicago, U.S.A, Robert Pollin, Professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, U.S.A, Akeel Bilgrami, Professor, Columbia University, U.S.A, and Gerald Epstein, Professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, U.S.A.
Their statement reads as follows:
"We, the undersigned members of the academic community, are deeply disturbed by some of the recent judgements of the Indian Supreme Court, which have a direct bearing on the future of civil liberties and human rights in India. We wish to draw attention, in particular, to the judgement in the Zakia Jafri case, which raises three disturbing questions.
"First, since the petitioners had challenged the findings of the SIT report that gave a clean chit to the Gujarat government for the riots following the Godhra incident, and asked the Supreme Court to order an independent investigation, for the Court to dismiss their appeal on the basis of the very same impugned SIT report seems to us to be unjust.
"Second, while dismissing their appeal, the Court has quite gratuitously and wholly unfairly attributed ulterior motives to the petitioners. This has even emboldened the executive to arrest co-petitioner Teesta Setalvad, along with witness R.B. Sreekumar, both of whom have also been denied bail.
"If any patient, prolonged, peaceful, and entirely legitimate pursuit of justice through the due process, is called "keeping the pot boiling", then this remark, quite apart from being offensive, discourages people from approaching the Court on any matter relating to excesses or dereliction on the part of the executive.
"Third, the Court has passed these uncalled-for obiter dicta without even giving a hearing to those against whom these remarks are directed; this sets an unfortunate precedent in jurisprudence.
"Apart from the brief period of the Emergency, the Indian Supreme Court has generally played an honourable role in defending the democratic commitments of the country, which is why we are dismayed by the recent tendency discernible in the Zakia Jafri judgement.
"We urge the Supreme Court to take suo motu notice of the fall-out of the judgement in this case, to expunge the derogatory remarks contained in it, and to dismiss the cases against those who have been arrested on the strength of these remarks."
The SIT had alleged that Setalvad and Sreekumar are involved in a conspiracy under the 'instruction' of Congress leader Ahmed Patel (now deceased) to destabilise the then BJP government.
Setalvad's arrest by the Anti Terror Squad of Gujarat was followed by a massive response from the public. Citizens had called for protests, and the All India Democratic Women's Association criticised the arrest, stating that, "after the unfortunate SC decision to throw out the appeal filed by Zakia Jafri whose husband was killed in the Gujarat pogrom, the Gujarat police has lost no time in arresting Teesta Setalvad who has stood with Ms Jafri like a rock." AIDWA has demanded her immediate release and end to the "harassment."