The Supreme Court on Friday (September 2) granted interim bail to journalist-activist Teesta Setalvad in a case in which Gujarat Police have accused her of fabricating documents to implicate high government functionaries in the Gujarat communal riots of 2002.
Setalvad’s plea was heard by a bench led by Chief Justice of India U U Lalit, and also comprising Justices Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia.
The chain of circumstances leading up to Setalvad’s arrest was set in motion after the Supreme Court, on June 24 this year, dismissed a petition filed by riots victim Zakia Jafri challenging the clean chit given by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to high-ranking officials of the then government of Gujarat including then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, in riots-related cases.
A Bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar said the SIT probe had “fully exposed” the “falsity of claims” made by “disgruntled officials” of Gujarat “to create sensation by making revelations which were false” and said that “all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock”. The court criticised the petitioners for “keeping the pot boiling” and showing the “audacity” to question the integrity of the SIT.
The next day, June 25, the Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) arrested retired state DGP R B Sreekumar, whose role had been called into question by the court, and Teesta Setalvad, who supported Zakia Jafri.
Sreekumar and Setalvad were charged with criminal conspiracy, forgery and other Sections of the IPC on the basis of an FIR lodged by a police officer, which quoted extensively from the Supreme Court’s order. The FIR also named former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who is already in jail in connection with another case.
Setalvad was denied bail by an Ahmedabad judge on July 30. The Gujarat High Court posted her appeal for hearing only on September 19. Setalvad moved the SC against the Ahmedabad court’s order and the HC’s decision to give “an extremely long date in a matter which is about personal liberty”.
Setalvad, who is a Padma Shri, is the granddaughter of M C Setalvad, India’s first Attorney General. Her great grandfather Chimanlal Harilal Setalvad was one of the three Indian members in the Hunter Commission that investigated the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre.
She is a founding trustee and secretary of the NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) established in 2002 in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots. The NGO sought to provide legal assistance to victims of the riots.
She was among the first activists to take up the cases of riot victims, which ultimately led to the Supreme Court setting up an SIT under former CBI Director R K Raghavan to investigate the riots.
Setalvad took on then Chief Minister Modi directly when, in March 2007, in a special criminal application before the Gujarat HC, she named herself as a co-petitioner of Zakia Jafri, who had sought an FIR against the Chief Minister and 61 other politicians and officials. She demanded a CBI inquiry against Modi.
Setalvad has faced several allegations over the years. In 2018, an FIR was lodged at the Ahmedabad DCB police station against Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand based upon a complaint by Raees Khan, a former CJP member, who accused them of misappropriation of grants released for Sabrang NGO in 2014. A petition moved by Setalvad and Anand to quash the complaint is pending before the Gujarat HC.
Earlier in 2014, in an FIR filed by the Ahmedabad Crime Branch, some victims of the Gulberg Society accused Setalvad, Anand and Jafri’s son Tanveer of criminal breach of trust, cheating, criminal conspiracy etc, wherein it was alleged that foreign donations received for establishment of a museum at Gulberg Society were used for other purposes, including Setalvad’s personal use.
In 2006, charges of allegedly hurting religious feelings, fabricating false evidence, trespassing on burial places, etc. were slapped against Setalvad, Raees and 10 others by the Panchmahals police for allegedly carrying out unauthorised digging at the spot where the bodies of 28 Muslims from Pandervada village, killed during the 2002 riots, had been buried by the administration. A petition by Setalvad for quashing of this FIR also remains pending before the Gujarat HC.