Staying the arrest of social activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband for another six days, the Supreme Court Friday made it clear that it would examine independently the case against them to ascertain whether they deserved bail and not go by the names involved in it.
A bench of Justices SJ Mukopadhyaya and NV Ramana refused to get bogged by political statements being made in the court by Setalvad's lawyer, Congress leader Kapil 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."
Teesta and her husband are accused of embezzlement of funds for a museum at Ahmedabad's Gulbarg Society that was devastated in the 2002 riots. The Gujarat high court had Thursday dismissed their anticipatory bail plea.The SC bench headed by the CJI had, however, stayed the arrest for a day.
At the beginning of hearing Teesta's appeal against the HC order, Justice Mukopadhyaya clarified the court wasn't going to quash the FIR. At this Sibal said he was here only for grant of bail. He urged the court to protect Setalvad as she was one of the few activists who took on the mighty State. "We are not getting drawn to any political statements," is how the court reacted to Sibal's request.
The high-voltage hearing, during which Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed Teesta's appeal, witnessed constant interruptions by advocates-activists present in the court to support her.
When Mehta alleged Teesta misused the funds, she received to build the memorial, by purchasing branded clothes and shoes, former Indira Jaisingh retorted:"What about the Prime Minister wearing a Rs 10 lakh suit."
This did not go down well with the bench that requested the counsel of both sides to maintain a judicial decorum. Granting an opportunity to Teesta to place documents supporting her claim for bail, the court fixed February 19 to hear the matter. The Gujarat High Court judgement and the pleadings there would also be provided to the court.
Until then the order passed Thuraday granting them interim protection, shall continue till then, the bench said.
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.
When Sibal argued, accusing the state government of settling personal scores against the social activist, the bench asked him if it was a case of where "crores of rupees have been used for personal purpose in the name of religion".
It said "you have done everything to collect the money. You have taken undue advantage of the riot victims and you have showed the photographs of the victims to foreigners and used them to collect money."
The senior advocate said Setalvad and her husband were left with no option but to approach this court as the state government with its full might was hell-bent to arrest them.
He challenged the allegations of collection of crores of rupees in the name of two NGOs and said his client was ready to place all documents for scrutiny. He claimed the HC had ignored documents running into1500 pages in support of his client. He sought permission to place the same before the court. Sibal said there was no complaint from the donors.
According to him Setalvad was ready for investigation and no judicial custody was required as it was a case based on documentary evidence.
But, bench said "FIRs like this can't be ignored. You have taken money in the name of the victims."
At one point during the hearing, the bench asked "why don't the petitioners surrender and go for regular bail."