The Supreme Court on Monday (August 22) issued notice to the Gujarat government on a bail plea filed by Mumbai-based activist Teesta Setalvad, in a case where she has been charged with allegedly fabricating documents to frame high-ranking officials, including then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The SC bench bench presided by Justice U U Lalit said in its order that the advocates representing Setalvad, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, assisted by advocate Aparna Bhat had invited their attention to the contents of FIR. “It is submitted that the allegations in the FIR are pure recitation of the proceedings which had happened and culminated in the judgement of this court and beyond such recitation, nothing has been alleged against the petitioner,” said the court in its order.
The lawyers had told the SC that the petitioner Setalvad has been in custody since June 25, 2022. Her bail application was rejected, and a fresh challenge was made to the Gujarat High Court, but the HC while issuing notice, made it returnable only on September 19, 2022.
In her plea, Setalvad had said the August 3 order of the Gujarat High Court, had fixed “an extremely long date in a matter which is about personal liberty”. So, the present petition was filed before the SC.
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Pointing out that the trial court may have rejected the bail application, Justice Lalit said that the matter is presently pending before the Gujarat High Court. However, Sibal argued that this is unfortunate since the entire basis of the case stems from the SC order (in the Zakia Jafri case), which is why an FIR has been filed.
After Sibal took the court through the contents of the FIR, the bench said it will issue notice, making it returnable on August 30. The senior counsel, however, wanted interim bail and prayed for a shorter date. The court agreed the bench led by Justices UU Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia will now hear the matter on August 25, when it will consider Setalvad’s prayer for interim relief despite the proceedings pending before the Gujarat HC.
Setalvad’s appeal was against the final judgment and order dated July 30, passed by the Additional Principal Sessions Judge, City Civil and Sessions Court, Ahmedabad, “refusing to grant bail to the petitioner”.
Also read: Activist Teesta Setalvad detained by Gujarat ATS; action after SC order on Gujarat riots
In her plea, Setalvad cited the SC ruling in the Arnab Goswami case, in which, the court had emphasised the importance of liberty. She also gave the example of judgments where timelines had been set by the SC for adjudication of bail applications by high courts.
In a 2017 ruling, the SC had said high courts are requested to ensure bail applications are decided within one month and criminal appeals, where the accused are in custody for more than five years, are concluded at the earliest. Both these judgments were not followed in Setalvad’s case, said the petition.
Further, Setalvad said in her petition that it is because she had challenged the administration at the highest level over the 2002 post-Godhra riots, and was supporting the victims, she has been “targeted”, and many FIRs registered against her and her organisation. She pointed out she had been granted protection by the HC and the SC.
Also read: Teesta Setalvad’s detention: The perils of choosing vindictiveness
On July 30, an Ahmedabad sessions court refused to grant bail to Setalvad, noting that she and other accused appeared to have aimed to “destabilise” the Gujarat government. Granting bail to the accused would encourage the wrong-doers that in spite of “making such accusations against the then chief minister and others, the court has lightly enlarged them on bail,” the order had said.
Setalvad then moved the Gujarat High Court for bail. The High Court issued notice in the matter, but did not grant Setalvad any interim relief.