Supreme Court to hear bail plea of Teesta Setalvad on August 25, issues notice to Gujarat government

Although the Gujarat High Court has agreed to hear the bail plea of Teesta Setalvad on September 19, the Supreme Court has, prima facie, accepted her contention that the long date given by the high court to hear her appeal against the rejection of her bail by the lower court, was unjustified. This is implied by the bench’s agreeing to hear the matter on August 25, once she expressed her trust in the bench, headed by the CJI-designate, Justice U.U. Lalit.

EARLIER today, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Gujarat government on a petition seeking bail filed by civil rights activist and journalist, Teesta Setalvad, who was arrested for allegedly fabricating evidence to “frame innocent people ” in the 2002 riots cases. A bench comprising the Chief Justice of India (‘CJI’)-designate Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, and Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia, directed the immediate listing of the matter after two days, that is, August 25, for considering interim bail to Setalvad.

When the matter was taken up for hearing, Justice Lalit, at the outset, told senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing for Setalvad, that he had appeared for the accused in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case in 2005. Justice Lalit added that though the present case had nothing to do with the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case, it was his duty to inform the advocate. Justice Lalit wanted to know whether Setalvad had taken a stand in that matter also.

Sibal responded that his client had no objections whatsoever with Justice Lalit hearing the matter. The bench accordingly recorded the submission and proceeded to hear the matter on merits.

Sibal invited the bench’s attention to the contents of the First Information Report (‘FIR’) dated June 25 against Setalvad, which, according to him, was a complete recitation of the Supreme Court’s proceedings in the Zakia Jafri judgment delivered on June 24, in which a bench comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravikumar made certain scathing observations against her, among others.

On June 25, the Gujarat Police Crime Branch, Ahmedabad lodged an FIR against her, as well as former Gujarat police officers R.B. Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt, for offences under Sections 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record), 194 (giving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction of capital offence), 211 (false charge of offence made with intent to injure), 218 (public servant framing incorrect record or writing with intent to save person from punishment or property from forfei­ture) and 120B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (‘IPC’).

The accusation against Setalvad, inter alia, states that there is material in the final report submitted by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (‘SIT’), set up to inquire into the allegations that state government functionaries and officials had conspired to give effect to the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, which indicates that she had conjured, connected, forged and fabricated facts and documents and/or evidence; that she was also involved in the tutoring of witnesses and making them depose on pre-typed affidavits; and that Zakia Jafri, who had challenged the SIT’s clean chit to government functionaries before the Supreme Court, in her cross-examination, had stated that she knew her.

The FIR further states that Jafri’s cross-examination indicated that she was tutored by Setalvad and she followed the instruction given by Setalvad, and that Bhatt, Sreekumar and Setalvad, among others, had conspired to abuse the process of law by fabricating false evidence in order to get several persons convicted for offences punishable with the capital sentence, thereby committing an offence under section 194 of the IPC. This FIR immediately followed the Supreme Court’s judgment in Zakia Ahsan Jafri versus State of Gujarat & Anr., whereby it had upheld the clean chit given by the SIT to the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, and now Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in the conspiracy allegations in the Gujarat riots.

 Setalvad was arrested on June 26. Her bail application was rejected by the Additional Principal Judge, City Court, Ahmedabad on July 30. She challenged the Sessions Court order in the Gujarat High Court. The high court, on August 3, issued notice to the state government, but listed the matter to be heard only on September 19, showing no urgency.