SC extends interim bail to Teesta Setalvad; case to be heard on July 19

Teesta Setalvad was accused of fabricating evidence and instituting false proceedings in the Gujarat riots case.

Indian civil rights activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Indian civil rights activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Ashlin Mathew

The Supreme Court of India extended the interim stay on the arrest of activist Teesta Setalvad after Gujarat High Court denied her regular bail and posted her case for hearing on July 19.

A three-judge bench of Justices BR Gavai, AS Bopanna and Dipankar Datta was hearing Setalvad’s plea against the Gujarat High Court’s decision to refuse her regular bail in connection with the case where she is accused of allegedly fabricating documents and evidence of witnesses in the 2002 Gujarat riots case.

Appearing for Setalvad, senior advocate Kapil Sibal requested for extension, and Assistant Solicitor General SV Raju, who appeared for the state of Gujarat, said that they needed more time to translate documents for the court. The court extended interim protection to Setalvad against her arrest in the case “until further orders”.

On Monday, the state of Gujarat had filed a reply in the Sessions Court in Ahmedabad that it was opposed to the discharge petition filed by Setalvad in the Sessions Court last month. She wanted the charges against her dropped. However, the state has claimed that there is more than prima facie evidence against Setalvad. The Sessions Court, in June, had rejected the discharge application filed by former DGP RB Sreekumar, Setalvad’s co-accused in the case.

The state, in its reply, stated that Setalvad had drafted the affidavits in English which the victims allegedly couldn’t understand and she had tried to implicate “innocent persons” and misused the legal process as part of her conspiracy. They claimed she had done so by abusing the trust of the victims of the riots.

What is the case?

Teesta Setalvad, who is the secretary of the NGO ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace’, has been accused of allegedly fabricating evidence and instituting false proceedings in connection with the 2002 Gujarat riots conspiracy case.

A day after the Supreme Court had dismissed a petition filed by Zakia Ehsan Jafri, the widow of Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who along with 68 others was killed inside the gated Gulbarg Society, alleging a larger conspiracy during the 2002 Gujarat riots, the Gujarat government had registered an FIR against Setalvad claiming she had fabricated evidence in the riots case.

Setalvad and Zakia Jafri had challenged the clean chit given to the then chief minister and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat riots by Special Investigation Team (SIT). The SIT had granted a ‘clean chit’ to the 63 accused persons. Jafri had approached the SC after the SIT headed by former CBI chief R Raghavan had found that there was no prosecutable evidence against the Gujarat CM.

On 24 June 2022, a bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar upheld the Gujarat HC’s and Special Metropolitan Magistrate's order that stated rejected the petition against the closure report filed by SIT and said that the plea was “devoid of any merit”. The bench stated that petition was filed to “keep the pot boiling”.

The bench observed, “The proceedings have been pursued for the last 16 years to keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design. As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law”.

Soon after, a seven-member SIT was constituted to investigate activist Teesta Setalvad, former state Director General of Police RB Sreekumar and former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, for their testimonies that implied the state’s complacency in the riots. It has also reportedly investigated Sreekumar and Setalvad’s alleged roles in fabricating evidence to seek conviction in riots-related cases.  The FIR registered charged them with criminal conspiracy and forgery.

On 25 June 2022 the Gujarat Police's Anti-Terrorism Squad took Setalvad into custody from her residence in Mumbai and her bail plea was rejected by a lower court in Ahmedabad on 30 July 2022. It was also rejected by the Gujarat High Court, which was when she had approached the Supreme Court for bail. On 2 September, then Chief Justice of India UU Lalit granted interim bail to social activist Teesta Setalvad and she was asked to surrender her passport till the matter was being considered by the Gujarat High Court.

On Friday, 30 June 2023, the Gujarat High Court had rejected her plea for regular bail and ordered her to surrender immediately. Soon after, she approached the Supreme Court where a vacation bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Prashant Kumar Mishra heard the case. But, they could not agree on granting interim bail to Teesta Setalvad and requested Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud to constitute a larger bench to hear the matter.

Late on Friday at 9.30 pm, the Supreme Court three-judge bench headed by Justice BR Gavai and comprising Justices AS Bopanna and Dipankar Datta granted Teesta Setalvad interim bail for a week and noted that the case would be posted before a regular bench.

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