A new bench of the Supreme Court will on Thursday hear the anticipatory bail plea of activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand, facing charges of cheating and criminal breach of trust over alleged embezzlement of funds she had raised for two NGOs working for victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The case has been shifted from the bench of justice SJ Mukhopadhya and justice NV Ramana, which had granted the couple protection from arrest for six days on February 13, to a bench comprising justice Dipak Mishra and justice Adarsh Kumar Goel. No reasons were given for the change in the bench.
The bench of justice Mukhopadhaya and justice Ramana had said during the last hearing that the allegations against Setalvad and Ahmed were "grave" and it was not even a case for quashing the FIR.
It had even asked couple to "surrender and seek regular bail" as they have been accused of collecting funds in the names of riots victims and religion but later granted the relief.
There were a number of occasions during the 30-minute hearing when the previous bench put questions to Setalvad's lawyer and Congress leader Kapil Sibal and making it clear that the "allegations" against them were "grave" and warned against bringing "politics" in the matter.
The bench refused to get bogged by political statements being made in the court by Sibal and observed: "We will look into the allegations in the FIR mainly. Let it be very clear, we will be looking at the case not by names but like the case of any ordinary individual."
The Gujarat government had registered the case against Setalvad last year. Her anticipatory bail plea and that of her husband was earlier rejected by the Gujarat high court, prompting them to appeal to the apex court the same day for fear of being arrested.
Setalvad and her husband have been booked by the Crime Branch of Gujarat police on charges of cheating, breach of trust and under the IT Act, in a matter relating to the construction of Museum of Resistance in the Gulbarg society in Ahmedabad which was hit by communal riot in 2002.
On February 28, 2002, in the aftermath of the Godhra train burning incident, armed rioters had swooped on the Gulbarg society and killed 69 people, including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri.
A group of prominent intellectuals from India and abroad, including linguist Noam Chomsky, have issued a statement in solidarity with Setalvad and Anand, saying they are "shocked to see this persisting spirit of vendetta against an effort to enforce legal and moral accountability for … massacre in Gujarat".Titled Politics of Vendetta Shall not Defeat the Cause of Justice, the statement was signed by Chomsky, historians Irfan Habib and Romila Thapar, economist Amiya Bagchi, Prabhat Patnaik, and Ashok Mitra, noted Sanskrit scholar Sheldon Pollock, film-maker Kumar Sahani and screenwriter Saeed Mirza, among others.
(With PTI inputs)