Holding activist Teesta Setalvad of Sabrang Trust “culpable for hatred-filled, disharmony-spreading, ill-will generating, enmity-creating explosive writings”, a committee appointed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development has said there exists a prima facie case against her under Indian Penal Code sections 153-A and 153-B.
These sections, which relate to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony, and imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration, are punishable with jail terms and fine.
The committee has also said that officials who were in the HRD ministry when the UPA was in power “can’t escape accountability, responsibility and culpability” because Rs 1.39 crore was released as grant to Sabrang Trust though it was not eligible for it. The Indian Express has learnt that if the committee’s recommendations are accepted, these officials could also face action.
The report of the committee, along with the opinion of the Law ministry, now awaits the decision of HRD minister Prakash Javadekar. His predecessor Smriti Irani had constituted the committee which submitted its report in June 2015 when she was still in charge of HRD.
Reached for comments, Javadekar said: “I have asked for the report and have not yet seen it. I can speak about it only after going through it.”
The committee, headed by Gujarat Central University vice-chancellor Syed A Bari, also comprised Supreme Court advocate Abhijit Bhattacharya and HRD ministry director Gaya Prasad. Asked about the report, Bhattacharya said: “We were given a task, we submitted the report. I don’t remember anything now about the content of the report.”
The committee, in its report, is said to have pointed out that Sabrang Trust should never have been considered by the HRD ministry for a scheme of assistance on education since education was never its objective. A careful scrutiny of the trust application would have led to its rejection but the ministry chose to sanction Rs 2.06 crore for a two-year project and Rs 1.39 crore was disbursed, the committee is said to have stated in its report. It is learnt that Rs 5.92 lakh was returned to the ministry as unspent balance on June 12, 2014 — within days of the NDA coming to power.
The committee, sources said, was of the view that Sabrang Trust was spreading a political agenda which was apparent from some of its literature, and held the state of Gujarat in low esteem, bordering political criticism, thereby rendering it ineligible ab initio.
Sources said the committee, after analysing study material prepared by the trust, found that former HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi had been criticised for re-writing history books, that he and his associates had also been criticised for their links to the RSS.
The committee, sources said, has noted that the trust should have been asked whether it was in the field of education or in the field of a political campaign against the BJP or Murli Manohar Joshi. While Setalvad was not available for comment, her husband Javed Anand, in an email response, said: “The committee appears to have taken a very narrow view of education. It may be noted that for over two decades ago, Teesta Setalvad conceived a programme for school children which she called ‘KHOJ: Education for a Plural India’.
As a project of Sabrang Trust, the innovative KHOJ educational modules evolved by her have been successfully implemented in both privately-run, civic corporation-run and Zila Parishad schools in Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra over the years. We are unable to appreciate how the committee reached the conclusion that education is not part of the aims and objects of Sabrang Trust.”
On the committee’s charge that the trust was spreading a political agenda, Anand said: “This allegation itself seems politically motivated and is strongly refuted. As is well-known, this is not the first time we are being targeted with malicious intent. Sabrang Trust’s only agenda is the Indian Constitution; its aim is to protect and promote constitutional values among all sections of society, children included.”
“The trust applied for a grant to its KHOJ education project, submitted detailed reports of the activities undertaken to the HRD ministry. It may be noted that permission to run the KHOJ programme in Mumbai Municipal Corporation-run schools was granted year after year by the education officer while the corporation has been under the Shiv Sena-BJP dispensation for years,” he said.
“Having received the grant after an elaborate process of application, scrutiny, pre-sanction project evaluation by government officials etc… having executed the project as proposed, utilisation of fund as per approved budget, filing of annual activity reports and utilisation certificates, returning the unutilised amount to the ministry at the end of the project period, we fail to see how Sabrang Trust could be held liable for any action,” Anand said.