Teesta Setalvad given interim bail by top court | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Teesta Setalvad given interim bail by top court

ByAbraham Thomas, New Delhi
Sep 03, 2022 12:51 AM IST

The Supreme Court on Friday granted interim bail to social activist Teesta Setalvad and directed her release by Saturday on the condition that she surrender her passport and cooperate with the investigation into the case lodged against her by Gujarat police accusing her of falsifying evidence in the 2002 riots cases.

The Supreme Court on Friday granted interim bail to social activist Teesta Setalvad and directed her release by Saturday on the condition that she surrender her passport and cooperate with the investigation into the case lodged against her by Gujarat police accusing her of falsifying evidence in the 2002 riots cases.

hmedabad: In this Saturday, July 2, 2022 file photo, social activist Teesta Setalvad being produced at Metropolitan Magistrate court in Ahmedabad. Supreme Court granted interim bail to Setalvad in a case related to 2002 Gujarat riots, on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. (PTI)
hmedabad: In this Saturday, July 2, 2022 file photo, social activist Teesta Setalvad being produced at Metropolitan Magistrate court in Ahmedabad. Supreme Court granted interim bail to Setalvad in a case related to 2002 Gujarat riots, on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. (PTI)

Setalvad was arrested in the case on June 25 and her bail plea was rejected by a city court in Ahmedabad on July 30. She later approached the Gujarat high court, which issued a notice on her appeal on August 3 but refused to grant her interim bail till the pendency of her matter in the high court. Setalvad approached the top court against this order and against the earlier dismissal of her bail plea by the trial court.

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A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Uday Umesh Lalit said, “In our view the high court ought to have considered her prayer for grant of interim bail during the pendency of the matter,” as it went on to grant interim bail till the high court hears her bail plea.

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The circumstances that went in Setalvad’s favour were her gender , the fact that she has been in custody for over two months, that the allegations against her pertain to the period from 2002 and at best before 2012, and that her custodial interrogation (even days) was conducted.

The bench, also comprising justices S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia, said, “The essential ingredients of investigation, custodial interrogation having been completed, the matter assumes a complexion where the matter of interim bail till the matter is considered by the high court is evidently made out.”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the state argued that when the matter is pending before the high court, the top court should not entertain this petition as it created a bad precedent. He further brought records of orders passed by the same judge who heard Setalvad’s matter on August 3 to show that she was not singled out as other petitions, including those filed by women accused, were posted for hearing in the end of September or early October.

The court said, “We are not considering whether the appellant be released on bail or not. We are considering from the standpoint that during the period when the matter is in HC, custody of the appellant be insisted upon or she be granted interim bail. Having given our attention to all aspects, we are of the view that the petitioner is entitled to the relief of interim bail.”

The court directed the state to produce her before the concerned trial court by Saturday and asked the trial judge to fix such conditions to enable her presence during the investigation. Two conditions were imposed by the top court as necessary for her bail – to surrender her passport and to cooperate fully with the investigating agency and be present as and when such requisition is made by police.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal appearing for Setalvad requested that a local surety should not be insisted upon for her bail as she may find it difficult to find persons locally who can stand surety. Amused by this statement, Mehta said, “The petitioner saying that she cannot get a local surety speaks volumes. I am sure she has local surety.”

The bench allowed Sibal’s request and granted permission for her release on bail on payment of cash in terms of bail bond without insisting on a local surety.

Mehta said that since another accused, former DGP RB Sreekumar’s bail plea was also rejected by the trial court on July 30, there is a possibility that this order could be used by other accused for claiming similar relief.

The bench clarified, “We have considered the matter from the standpoint of interim bail and have not touched upon the merits of the case…We add further, that the relief of interim bail is made in the peculiar facts that the appellant is a lady. It shall not be taken as a reflection or taken as a ground for relief by other accused.”

Since Setalvad’s plea before the high court is to be taken up on September 19, the court said, “The entire matter on merit shall be considered by the high court uninfluenced by any observations made by this court.”

Earlier in the day, Mehta produced a statement given by witnesses before police and before the magistrate pointing towards the role played by Setalvad in providing witnesses in the riot cases with pre-typed and pre-signed statements to be submitted to a special investigation team (SIT) probing nine major riot cases under the supervision of the Supreme Court.

The bench wondered how Mehta got access to the Section 164 statements of witnesses which are to be in the custody of the court that records it.

“It has to be in sealed cover and is to be submitted directly by the court. How did you get it? ” asked the bench. Mehta said that it was obtained from the court and it was meant for the top court’s consumption. The court wished to know if these witnesses had deposed during the trial of the 2002 riots cases.

Mehta said, “This is a case of evidence. Should this court go into this question in an appeal against bail filed by the petitioner?”

He further stated that the petitioner collected 8 crore and the same was spent on purchasing expensive wine and duty-free products.

“It is not that it is a case of no evidence. This is a case of conspiracy and investigation is at a crucial stage,” Mehta said. He also defended the HC order saying that the petitioner was in the habit of maligning the state and all institutions. “Position of high court judges is precarious. They are abused and maligned left and right and there is no forum for them to contest it,” Mehta submitted.

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Sibal said, “I (Setalvad) have not made any allegation against any judge or institution,” while producing orders passed by the same judge who heard Setalvad’s case on August 3 and granting bail. “The state is deeply interested that she (Setalvad) does not come out of jail,” he said.

Sibal said one of the witnesses being projected as a crucial witness who testified against Teesta was Rais Khan, a former associate of Teesta, who filed similar applications against her before trial courts hearing the riots cases that were dismissed.

“This is not prosecution, this is persecution,“ Sibal said as he submitted that the affidavits of Rais Khan were of 2002-03. “Persons who complain of forgery should have come forward with a complaint. But here the state has come forward. This is malicious and motivated, because I (Setalvad) did what I did in larger public interest.” Sibal had also argued that the FIR was filed a day after the June 24 judgment by the Supreme Court dismissing a petition filed by riots victim Zakia Jafri seeking a probe into the larger conspiracy behind the riots. Setalvad had supported Jafri in making out a legal case.

Incidentally, the June 24 judgment remarked that the petitioner had the “audacity” to question the integrity of the SIT and said, “All those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law.” The judgment was quoted in the FIR lodged by Gujarat police a day later.

The court did not enter into the rival contentions made by the two sides and restricted itself to the question whether a ground for interim bail to be granted by the high court was made out. Setalvad in her petition filed through advocate Aparna Bhat said, “The petitioner strongly believes that she has been targeted by the state as she raised critical issues before this court challenging the administration.”

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