Teesta Setalvad – Gujarat riots fund embezzlement – Bail case
Teesta Setalvad runs two trusts in the form of Non-Governmental Organizations, viz. “Citizens for Justice and Peace” (CJP) and “Sabrang Trust”. Setalvad and her husband are the trustees of the Trusts along with few other persons. The couple along with ferw other are alleged of misappropriating of around Rs. 1,50,00,000 collected through their NGOs for setting up a museum at the Gulbarga Society in Ahmedabad where around 69 people were killed during the communal conflagration.
- Sections 420, 406, 468, 120B of the Indian Penal Code
- Section 72(A) of the Information and Technology Act.
- 11 inhabitants of the Gulbarg Society including one Firozkhan Saeedkhan Pathan
- FIR registered with the D.C.B. Crime, Ahmedabad, on 4th January 2014
- Bombay High Court granted interim protection on Anticipatory Bail Application No.14 of 2014 on 10th January 2014.
- Single Judge, Bombay High Court heard the matter and anticipatory bail was rejected on 31st January 2014 substantially on the ground of territorial jurisdiction of the High Court of Bombay. They were however Bombay granted a transit bail for a period of four weeks to enable them to file an appropriate application before the appropriate forum in the State of Gujarat.
- Above order challenged before Supreme Court of India vide SLP (Cri) No.1770 of 2014 which was disposed of by the Supreme Court vide order dated 24th February 2014. Court held:
“The matter relates to grant of Anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Bombay High Court vide impugned order dated 31st January, 2014 allowed the petitioners to move before appropriate Court in Gujarat for said relief and granted Transit Bail for four weeks so as to enable the petitioner to approach before the appropriate Court at Gujarat. Having heard the learned Counsel for the petitioners, we are not inclined to interfere with the impugned order.
However, taking into consideration the nature of the case and submission made on behalf of the petitioners, we extend the Transit Bail in favour of petitioners upto 31st March, 2014 so as to enable the petitioners to approach the appropriate Court in Gujarat. If such petition is filed, the appropriate Court in Gujarat will consider the same independently without being influenced by any observation made by the Bombay High Court.
The question of law about jurisdiction of High Court is kept open.
The special leave petition stands disposed of.”
- The couple filed Criminal Misc. Application No.761 of 2014 before the City Sessions Court, Ahmedabad, and prayed for anticipatory bail. The anticipatory bail application came to be rejected vide order dated 25th March 2014 passed by the Additional Sessions Judge, City Sessions Court No.15, Ahmedabad.
Gujarat High Court
- The couple approached Gujarat High Court vide. Criminal Misc.Application No. 4679- 4680 of 2014.
- Notice issued on 28 March 2014.
- The arguments of both the sides were concluded on 6 February 2015 at around 5:00 p.m. and the judgment was kept reserved.
- On 12 February 2015, Gujarat High Court rejected the above Applications of the couple. Read Judgment here.
Supreme Court of India
- 12 February 2015: On the same day of the pronouncement of the judgment by the Gujarat High Court, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibbal mentioned the matter before the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu. Granting an interim relief, bench restrained the police from arresting Setalvad and her husband for one day, directed the listing of the matter next day i.e. 13 February 2015. READ ORDER
- On 13 February 2015, matter was listed before a bench comprising of Justice SJ Mukhopadhya and Justice Ramana which extended the restraining order till 19 February 2015 as it directed the hearing of an appeal by Setalvand and Anand Feb 19. It asked Setalvad and the Gujarat government to file whatever additional documents they want to, before the court.
- 19 February 2015: Matter came to be listed before a new bench comprising of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A K Goel. This transfer of matter from the earlier bench of justices SJ Mukhopadhya and NV Ramana to this bench surprised many creating speculations. These speculations were put to rest by a statement of Registrar of the Supreme Court – MK Hanjura who said:
Whatever has been done has been done at the direct recusal of one of the Hon’ble judges of the previous bench… Whatever has been done has been done at the direct recusal of one of the Hon’ble judges of the previous bench. Assigning a case to a bench is in the administrative domain of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India.
Arguments lasted for around two-hours during which the bench asked Gujarat police to explain why custodial interrogation was needed for Setalvad and Anand in a case that “prima facie appeared to be a case of mismanagement of fund” and could not be called a “serious and big scam”. [Indian Express]
Court asked Mahesh Jethmalani who was appearing for the State of Gujarat:
Liberty is paramount for us. Liberty is on one hand and on the other hand are the allegations, nature of the crime and its impact. There may be financial irregularities or alleged embezzlement of funds, as mentioned in the FIR, but is it a case where liberty of a person is to be curtailed?
During the arguments, Jethmalani conceded that he would not press charges under sections 467 (forgery for cheating) and 420 (cheating) of the IPC, and Section 72A of the Information Technology Act that related to a breach of contract but maintained that Section 406 of the IPC was still relevant since there was a breach of trust and Setalvad had sought to defraud the “unfortunate victims of riots by raising the money in their name”, reported Indian Express.
The bench responded:
“Even if there may be a case made out under Section 406, what can be the need to arrest them? Who the petitioner is, is absolutely irrelevant for us. It is a question of liberty. Liberty is not absolute and it has to be balanced. But at the same time, it cannot be put on a ventilator in an ICU.”
The hearing also saw heated exchange of words between Setalvad’s counsel Kapil Sibal and the Bench. Sibal, took the liberty to say that the Gujarat government should ask for documents instead of going for custodial interrogation. On this, the Bench said:
“Don’t act smart Mr Sibal. You provide all the documents. You also provide the list of donors.” “I have never played smart with the judges in my 42-year-long career,”
Sibal shot back, adding, “Whatever documents they ask me, I will give them in one week; reported New Indian Express.
Court reserved the judgment stating that it would pass a detailed order later and that judgement. Bench also ordered added that it would also allow police to move court for cancellation of bail in case of breach of conditions by the couple, reported Indian Express.
- 26 February 2015: Indian Express reported that Kapil Sibal, appearing for Setalvad, mentioned the matter saying that the couple had not received the list of documents needed from them in the probe, the report of which has been in a section of media. Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Gujarat Government, said the list was not handed over to them as there was a likelihood of them filing some application. On February 20, Gujarat Police provided the apex court a list of documents, including those related to personal expenditure of the couple.
- 19 March 2015: The matter was listed for judgment, however the bench without granting an anticipatory bail to the couple, while extending the interim protection granted on 19 February 2015, referred the matter to a larger bench.on Thursday, with a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court saying the issue demanded the attention of a larger bench. Court directed the registry to place the matter before the Chief Justice of India for constitution of appropriate larger Bench to hear and decide the matter.
Image from here
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