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2002 Godhra riots: SC grants regular bail to activist Teesta Setalvad


New Delhi [India]: The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered that activist Teesta Setalvad shall remain on bail in a case of alleged fabrication of evidence in relation to the 2002 Gujarat riots.

A special three-judge bench of Justices BR Gavai, AS Bopanna and Dipankar Datta ordered that Setalvad shall not make any attempt to influence witnesses in the case and keep away from them. “If she influences (witnesses), prosecution can move Supreme Court directly for cancellation of bail,” the top court said.

Granting regular bail to Setalvad, the apex court quashed the Gujarat High Court’s order that rejected her regular bail and asked her to surrender immediately.

The bench said since charge sheet has been filed and her custodial interrogation completed, she should be granted bail.

“Since most of the evidence is documentary and since charge sheet is filed we do not find that her custodial interrogation is needed,” the apex court in its order stated.

Setalvad on July 1 approached the Supreme Court after the Gujarat High Court rejected her regular bail and asked her to surrender immediately. Thereafter, the apex court granted her interim protection from arrest.

The bench also made scathing remarks against Gujarat High Court for rejecting Setalvad’s bail plea, saying High Court had “interestingly” observed that since she had not challenged the FIR and chargesheet under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) or Articles 226 or 32 of the Indian Constitution, she could not claim that a prima facie case was not made out.

The bench remarked that if the observation of the High Court was accepted, then no bail plea can be decided pre-trial without challenging the chargesheet under articles 226 or 32 of the Constitution or Section 482 of CrPC.

Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the Gujarat government, vehemently opposed Setalvad’s plea.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal and CU Sungh appeared for Setalvad. When the High Court rejected Setalvad’s regular bail, on the same day she approached the top court and in a special sitting a three-judge bench of the apex court granted relief to Setalvad from arrest.
The apex court on July 1 observed that High Court “was totally wrong in not granting interim protection even for one week” to Setalvad.

Before the High Court’s recent order, she was protected against coercive actions because of the Supreme Court’s interim bail order of September 2022.

Gujarat government on previous hearing said that it’s not an ordinary case; somebody takes institutions for a “joy ride”.

Setalvad was arrested by the Gujarat Police on June 25, 2022, on an FIR by the Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) on alleged charges of conspiring to falsely implicate innocent people in connection with the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Charges were framed against her under sections 468 (forgery for cheating) and 194 (fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction for capital offenses) of the Indian Penal Code.

Later on September 2, the Supreme Court granted interim bail to Teesta.

The SIT formed to probe the case has alleged that Setalvad and Sreekumar were part of a larger conspiracy carried out at the behest of late Congress leader Ahmed Patel to destabilise the then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Narendra Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time.

Former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt is also an accused in the case. The FIR against Setalvad, Sreekumar, and Bhatt was registered after the Supreme Court had on June 24, dismissed the plea filed by Zakia Jafri, widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, challenging the clean chit given by the SIT to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several others in 2002 Gujarat riots.

Ehsan Jafri was among 69 people killed during the violence at Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002. Zakia Jafri has challenged the SIT’s clean chit to 64 people including Narendra Modi who was the Gujarat Chief Minister during the riots in the State. She had alleged a “larger conspiracy” behind the post-Godhra incident riots.

However, the SIT in the apex court had opposed the plea of Jafri saying there is a sinister plot behind the complaint to probe the “larger conspiracy” behind the 2002 Gujarat riots and the original complaint by Jafri was directed by Teesta Setalvad, who leveled allegations just to keep the pot boiling.

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