The Bombay High Court Friday gave activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand interim relief from arrest for two weeks — hours after a special CBI court rejected their anticipatory bail plea.
Setalvad and her husband were apprehending arrest by the Economic Offences Wing of the CBI on allegations of embezzlement.
Quick to respond to the CBI court’s order, Setalvad’s lawyers filed an application in high court and mentioned it before Justice Mridula Bhatkar at 3 pm. In high court, the Centre told the judiciary that the nature of allegations against Setalvad and her husband was such that it could “affect the Indian economy”.
Appearing for the activist, advocate Mihir Desai informed the court that Teesta and her husband had been booked under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) for allegedly collecting foreign funds. Desai said that the government claimed its permission was not taken for carrying out the foreign transaction, but argued that permission was not required in the first place.
“We had taken written opinion of a senior counsel of this high court (on whether or not to take government approval),” said Desai.
The CBI, through public prosecutor Sandeep Shinde, objected to the pre-arrest bail plea, saying that the nature of the allegations was “very serious”. He argued that the case could affect the country’s economy since the secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Foreigners Division (FCRA wing), was the complainant.
When Justice Bhatkar observed that two weeks could be given, Shinde objected and said that the relief should be for one week less.
However, the HC decided that Setalvad and her husband should not be arrested for two weeks. The HC also observed that the accused did not need to be questioned daily, and directed them to go on July 27 and 30 and then on August 3 and 6 till the next hearing comes up on August 10.
Earlier in the day, when the special CBI court rejected Setalvad and her husband’s anticipatory bail application, she lashed out at the special judge, saying that she was “shocked and aggrieved by the judgement” and she believed that “it is done to intimidate and possibly eliminate us by powers in Delhi”.
The court reprimanded her and said she was committing contempt of court by speaking about the order, especially when she has appointed a lawyer on her behalf.
“Being an individual, I am constrained to accept the order and am sharing my views. My sympathisers feel that it is done to intimidate me and possibly eliminate me. We have had other applications accepted in petty offences,” she responded.
The CBI, on July 8, registered a case against Setalvad and her husband and raided their home and offices a week later. The agency is probing whether Setalvad’s NGO Sabrang received funding from the US-based Ford Foundation without government permission.
The case has been registered under certain sections of the FCRA and the IPC.
The special court observed that “prima facie, a case was made out against her”. The court has also maintained that the case was based on documentary evidence, which is required to be seized from the possession of the accused.
“Custodial interrogation of the accused is necessary,” the special judge further observed.
Around five people had accompanied Setalvad and her husband to the special court. As she left the court, they formed a circle around her to “protect” her.
In the high court, the CBI said Setalvad’s application for relief was not maintainable. “Because of the application, we are unable to arrest the accused and they get to escape,” special public prosecutor for CBI Anil Singh said. It is alleged that the Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace — both run by Setalvad and her husband — received foreign funds and the amount was diverted to Sabrang Communications and Publishing Pvt Ltd. The FIR was lodged after the Home Ministry found alleged discrepancies by the two NGOs under the FCRA.