The Supreme Court of India has posted accused Teesta Setalvad’s bail plea for hearing on July 19, at 2 pm. On July 5, the court issued a notice in her bail plea while extending the interim stay on the Gujarat High Court’s order denying her regular bail.
The court’s three-judge bench, comprising Justices BR Gavai, AS Bopanna and Dipankar Dutta, was hearing Teesta Setalvad’s bail plea against the Gujarat High Court’s order.
On July 1, the Gujarat High Court rejected Teesta Setalvad’s bail plea in connection to her alleged fabrication of evidence and tutoring witnesses to implicate high government functionaries in a Gujarat Riots 2002 case. The court has ordered Teesta Setalvad to “surrender immediately.”
Gujarat High Court’s Order
Teesta Setalvad’s counsel urged the court to stay the operation of the order for 30 days to move the Supreme Court, however, the court rejected the same. Teesta Setalvad was protected against coercive action due to a Supreme Court’s interim bail order of September 2022.
The FIR against Teesta Setalvad alleges that she fabricated evidence and instituted false proceedings in relation to Gujarat Riots 2002. Gujarat Police registered the FIR in 2022, a day after Supreme Court discarded Zakia Ehsan Jafri’s plea challenging the SIT’s report and alleging a conspiracy between state functionaries – including then-Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and 63 others – in the Gujarat Riots 2002.
However, on July 1, the Supreme Court granted interim relief to Teesta Setalvad in connection to the FIR filed by Gujarat Police. The court’s three-judge bench, comprising Justices BR Gavai, AS Bopanna and Dipankar Dutta, heard the case after the division bench, comprising Justices AS Oka and Prashant Kumar Mishra, differed with respect to granting Setalvad bail.
The three-judge bench asked, “What is the urgency in taking her into custody? Will the skies fall if interim protection is granted for some days? We are taken by surprise by what the high court has done. What is the alarming urgency?” responding to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s contention that Teesta Setalvad is a common criminal and her bail should be rejected.
“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,” the court said while granting interim protection to the accused.
Teesta Setalvad Fabricates Evidence in Gujarat Riots Case
On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court’s three-judge bench, comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar, upheld the Magistrate’s decision to accept the SIT’s closure report in the larger conspiracy case. The court was hearing a petition moved by Zakia Ehsan Jafri, widow of Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the Gulberg Society massacre during the Gujarat Riots in 2002.
“The attempt of the complainant was obviously to make wild and preposterous allegations and keep the pot boiling in the name of taking action against new offenders referred to in the protest petition while not pursuing allegation Nos. (i) and (iv) which had been thoroughly investigated by the SIT and found to be devoid of substance,” the court said in its 452-page judgement.
The court noted the respondent’s objection against Teesta Setalvad’s joining the case. The respondents argued that Teesta Setalvad, claiming to be a bonafide crusader of human rights, was “vindictively persecuting this lis for her ulterior design by exploiting the emotions and sentiments of appellant – Zakia Ahsan Jafri, the real victim of the circumstances.”
The respondents (SIT) argued that Zakia Ahsan Jafri conceded in her cross-examination that she knew Teesta Setalvad for some time and met with RB Sreekumar, another accused in the fabrication of evidence case.
“She (Zakia Jafri) had also admitted in her cross-examination that she had given statement on 22.8.2003 before the Nanavati-Shah Commission and after giving that statement, she had no occasion to read copy of that statement. This was suggestive of the fact that she was tutored by Ms. Teesta Setalvad, but she never disclosed about that, which fact she had to admit in the cross-examination,” the respondent-SIT argued before the Supreme Court.
“The statements so presented were stereotyped copies/computerised prepared statements given to them by Ms. Teesta Setalvad and Advocate – Mr. M.M. Tirmizi and they had merely signed such prepared statements,” further argued before the court.
The respondent State of Gujarat argued that Teesta Setalvad is pursuing the allegations regarding a larger conspiracy only out of vengeance and to defame the entire State of Gujarat. “Appellant – Zakia Ahsan Jafri was used as a tool to further the said design, who in turn fell prey to the influence exerted by Ms. Teesta Setalvad,” the State of Gujarat argued.
“There is material in the final report suggestive of Ms. Teesta Setalvad having conjured facts and evidence including fabrication of documents by persons who were to be prospective witnesses of the complainant. It is not only a case of fabrication of documents, but also of influencing and tutoring the witnesses and making them depose on pre-typed affidavit,” the State of Gujarat argued before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court said, “Coming back to the allegations regarding larger conspiracy at the highest level, it is founded on the alleged utterances made by the then Chief Minister in an official meeting while addressing the DGP, the then Chief Secretary and other senior officials of the State to allow to vent to the Hindu anger on the minority in the wake of Godhra incident. This is in reference to the meeting held on 27.2.2002 evening in Gandhinagar, as testified in the affidavit of Mr. R.B. Sreekumar.”
The Supreme Court observed that the abovementioned utterances of PM Modi were the core basis to allege larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level. The court said that the allegations were enquired by the SIT and concluded that the claims were “false” and a “figment of imagination.” The court noted that the SIT had also collected relevant “documentary evidence to establish the falsity of the claim of Mr. Sanjiv Bhatt of being present in that meeting.”
The Supreme Court accepted the respondent’s argument that the appellant was “improvising her grievances and make new allegations including to involve new offenders as being party to the larger criminal conspiracy hatched at the highest level.”
“She was obviously doing so under dictation of someone,” the court said.
The court said, “In fact, the sizeable contents of the protest petition are founded on the affidavits filed by those persons, whose version have been found to be replete with falsehood.”
“For, there is no material worth the name to even create a suspicion (leave alone strong suspicion and a ground for presuming that the named offenders had committed an offence of larger conspiracy), indicative of the meeting of the minds of all concerned at some level; and in particular, the bureaucrats, politicians, public prosecutors, VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal or the members of the State political establishment – for hatching a larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level to cause and precipitate mass violence against the minority community across the State during the relevant period. Such conclusion reached by the Magistrate and the High Court is unexceptionable,” the Supreme Court said, in the judgement.
The court concluded, “Accordingly, we hold that this appeal is devoid of merits and resultantly, deserves to be dismissed in the aforementioned terms. We order accordingly.”