The Supreme Court granted interim protection to social activist Teesta Setalvad, whose regular bail was rejected by the Gujarat High Court today in a case of the alleged fabrication of evidence in relation to the 2002 Gujarat riots. High Court had asked her to surrender immediately.
In a special sitting, a three-judge bench of Justices BR Gavai, AS Bopanna and Dipankar Datta stayed for seven days the order of the Gujarat High Court which asked her to surrender immediately while rejecting her regular bail plea.
Granting interim protection from arrest for seven days to Setalvad, the bench said, “The single judge ought to have granted some time… We stay the order of the single bench for a period of one week.”
While giving the judgement Supreme Court observed that “we are sorry to say the single judge was totally wrong in not granting interim protection even for one week.”
When this court has granted interim bail, extending it by a week would have been ideal, observed Supreme Court.
The bench noted that while passing the September 2022 order, the earlier bench led by the then CJI UU Lalit had taken into account the fact that the petitioner was a lady who was entitled to special protection under Section 437 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Taking this factor into consideration, the bench opined, the single bench of the High Court ought to have granted some protection to the petitioner so that she can challenge the order before the Supreme Court.
“In that view of the matter, without considering anything on merits of the matter, finding that the learned Single Judge was not correct in granting even some protection, we grant stay of the impugned order passed by the High Court for a period of one week from today”, observed the bench.
Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, representing the State of Gujarat, urged the court to mete out the same treatment to Setalvad as received by any ordinary citizen. “I would expect Your Lordships to do the same thing which will be done in the case of a common man who has been rejected bail since she is a common criminal,” the law officer argued.
Solicitor General said that it’s not an ordinary case; somebody takes institutions for a joy ride. The country and state were maligned for decades. She wrote to Geneva, the SG said.
“She started a campaign making false allegations. The riot did take place, and people from both communities were killed. But, she saw an opportunity and came to this court with false allegations. A special investigation team was constituted by the Supreme Court and operated under its monitoring. This SIT has received pre-typed and pre-signed statements. The witnesses later told the SIT that they were unaware of the contents and were given the statements by this same petitioner…The petitioner has filed false affidavits, and tutored witnesses. She also started collecting money for riots victims. The entire nation was maligned, not only inside the country but outside the country, by the petitioner. It is not a question of one individual. These offences are against the integrity of the nation.”
Supreme Court asked Solicitor General, “Her conduct may be reprehensible, but today we are considering whether a person should be stripped of liberty even for a day?”
Supreme Court further observed that she was on bail for 10 months and asked about the urgency in taking her into custody?
“Will the skies fall if interim protection granted… We are taken by surprise by what the High Court has done. What is the alarming urgency?” asked Supreme Court.
In the evening Supreme Court’s two-judge bench of Justices, Abhay S Oka and Prashant Kumar Mishra differed on granting interim protection to her and referred the matter to the Chief Justice of India to constitute a larger bench.
(With inputs from ANI)