Teesta and husband won’t be arrested, says SC: All you need to know about the embezzlement case
On Thursday, a new bench of the Supreme Court hearing the plea of activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband said that there was no need to arrest the two, as it reserved its orders on the anticipatory bail.
The bench was hearing the plea of Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed, seeking anticipatory bail in a case of alleged embezzlement of funds for a museum in Ahmedabad’s Gulbarg Housing Society that was targeted in the 2002 riots and destroyed in the violence, reports said on Thursday.
The SC bench also directed Setalvad and her husband to provide a list of documents and means of donors as sought by the Gujarat police. It also said that if Teesta does not cooperate in the probe, the Gujarat police could file an application for the cancellation of bail.The Supreme Court slammed the Gujarat government and asked, “Why do you need activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband in custody to question them?”
Following the SC’s ruling, advocate Prashant Bhushan was quoted by ANI as saying, “We made it clear to the Gujarat government that this is not a case where there is a need for custodial interrogation or arrest.”
A previous bench of the SC which first heard the case, had asked Setalvad and her husband to surrender and get regular bail, noting that the charges against them were of a grave nature.
Here is all you need to know about the case:
Who is Teesta Setalvad?
Teesta Setalvad is a civil rights activist activist and a journalist. She is also the secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), an organisation formed to fight for the victims of communal violence in Gujarat in 2002. She has been one of the most vocal critics of Narendra Modi, both when he was CM of Gujarat and also as PM of India.
CJP, along with Zakia Jafri, is a petitioner seeking criminal trial of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 62 other politicians and government officials for complicity in the Gujarat riots of 2002 and whose names did not figure in any of the FIRs. Four of the accused since then have been charged of whom Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi have already been convicted.
As senior editor of Firstpost, G Pramod Kumar writes, “She is an exceptional character in India’s human rights campaigns – she is the principal reason for getting justice, although partial, to the victims of the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. For the first time in India, 117 perpetrators of communal violence, including a minister in the then Modi state cabinet, had been convicted. Had it not been for her and other rights activists, the victims would been gagged to submission. She is also the biggest obstacle to Modi’s image management efforts.”
What is the Gulbarg embezzlement case?
The Gujarat police crime branch, in January 2014, had registered an FIR against Setalvad, her husband and others for allegedly collecting Rs 1.51 crore in the form of donations with the objective of turning Gulbarg Society, where several were killed in the post-Godhra violence of 2002, into a riot musuem.
The issue had surfaced when 12 residents of Gulbarg society demanded Rs 1.51 crore from Setalvad last year, alleging that the money collected in their name had never been distributed.
It was alleged that although the funds were collected between 2007 and 2012 under the assurance that the Gulbarg Society would be converted into a museum, these funds were lying as fixed deposits under Setalvad’s name.
They also said that they had been asked not to sell their homes since Setalvad’s NGO would be acquiring the land for the memorial.
However, a day later, another group of people from the Gulbarg Housing Society, which included the society’s secretary and chairman, wrote to the police saying that a few residents had misused the society’s letterhead to register the earlier complaint and there was no truth in those allegations.
Ignoring the clarification given by the secretary and chairman of GCHS, the Gujarat police on 4 January 2014 acted on the first complaint and filed an FIR against Setalvad and Javed.
Developments in the case till now
Last week, a team of Gujarat police along with a team of Mumbai police, landed at Setalvad’s Mumbai home after the Gujarat High court had declined her plea for anticipatory bail in the embezzlement case. Teesta was not at home when the police team reached there, and a few reports said that she had left town due to a family event.However, the Supreme Court came to the couple’s relief after counsel Kapil Sibal had mentioned the matter before it. The Supreme Court restrained the police from arresting the duo till Friday, reports had said. Sibal told the court that soon after Setalvad and others’ plea for anticipatory bail was rejected by the High Court, the Gujarat Police reached her Mumbai residence to arrest her.
In her petition, Setalvad said that both she and her husband were victims of political vendetta as they were involved in the rehabilitation of the victims of 2002 Gujarat communal riots and securing justice to them, which had incurred the wrath of the Gujarat state government.
The petition contended that the 2002 carnage was “motivated and supported by the communal outfits of the party in power, and the state government is not appreciative of the efforts of the petitioners and are constantly trying to dissuade and disrupt the activities of the petitioner”, IANS said in this report.
“The present FIR”, the petition said, “is also lodged at the behest of the political outfits and has absolutely no merit in it”.
Seeking protection from arrest, the petition by Selalvad and Anand expressed apprehension that they may be “physically harassed and abused” by the Gujarat Police. “There is an apprehension” that Setalvad could be “bodily harmed given the history with police” which had warranted the apex court to grant her protection.
Things Teesta Setalvad should explain
Noting that this is clear case of political vendetta, Teesta Setalvad said “attempts are being made constantly by the communal political outfits and the (Gujarat) state machinery to curtail the movement and freedom of the petitioners and also to arrest their activities, so as to cynically reverse the successes of the difficult struggle for reparation and justice.”
Although there are a few things that even Setalvad needs to explain. This report in The Indian Express noted that while the activist claims that no money was taken from the fund for rent, a lump sum was paid for her family property from the trust fund.
Secondly, Setalvad’s personal and trust expenses weren’t separate. She would pay for them from her credit card and later get them reimbursed.
How did the country react?
Except a few human rights activists and a handful of politicians noone really came forward to speak for the civil rights activist. While speaking to ANI, Manish Tewari of Congress said that it won’t be proper to comment on a matter which is sub-judice but he also added that Setalvad was one of the few who helped in bringing the truth about Gujarat carnage to the forefront. “This is a clear case of political vendetta,” Tewari further added.
As Firstpost’s senior editor G Pramod Kumar argues in this article, “the victimisation of Setalvad is too evident to ignore.” The article futher notes how the case is a lesson and a “reminder” for other human rights activists of the misuse of power by the state and its police.