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‘Teesta Setalvad tried to unsettle a democratically elected govt and send ex-CM to jail’

Gujarat HC rejects bail plea

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AHMEDABAD, July 1 (PTI): The Gujarat High Court Saturday rejected the regular bail plea of social activist Teesta Setalvad and directed her to surrender immediately, observing she made attempts to unsettle a democratically elected government and sully the image of the then chief minister and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi and tried to send him to jail.

Rejecting Setalvad’s plea in a case of fabricating evidence to implicate innocent people in the 2002 post-Godhra riots cases, the court of Justice Nirzar Desai said that enlarging her will send a false signal that everything in a democratic country is lenient.

The court directed Setalvad, who is currently out on interim bail, to surrender immediately. It also rejected her lawyer’s request to give her 30 days to surrender.

Setalvad was arrested in June last year along with former Gujarat Director General of Police R B Sreekumar and ex-IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt in an offence registered by Ahmedabad crime branch police for allegedly fabricating evidence to frame “innocent people” in the post-Godhra riots cases. She was granted interim bail by the Supreme Court on September 2, 2022.

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In its judgment, the high court observed that prima facie it appears that Setalvad used her close associates and riot victims to file “false and fabricated affidavits before the Supreme Court with a view to unseat the establishment and to tarnish the image of establishment and the then chief minister (Modi)”.

If today some political party allegedly gave her the task to unsettle the (then) government, tomorrow “some outside force may utilise and convince a person to make efforts in a similar line causing danger to the nation or to a particular state by adopting the same modalities”, it said.

Enlarging her on bail will send a false signal that everything in a democratic country is so lenient that “even if a person goes to the extent of making efforts to unseat the then establishment and disrepute the image of the then chief minister to see that he is sent to jail”, the person can be released on bail, the court said.

This will “encourage others also to act in a similar manner”, it said.

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Prima facie it appears that Setalvad, a Padma Shri and former member of the Planning Commission, “made attempts to create an atmosphere to unsettle democratically elected government to disrepute the image of the then chief minister and to see that he goes to jail”, it said.

She helped the riot victims with the intention to gain personal and political benefits by collecting huge funds and projecting herself as a social leader and eventually becoming a member of the Planning Commission, it said.

The statement of witnesses indicate that she had prepared false affidavits and convinced the victims to file them before the Supreme Court and other forums and name innocent persons just to fulfil her own and that of Congress leader late Ahmed Patel’s personal and political agenda, the court said in its order.

She worked to polarise the people of a particular communally to disturb the peace by provoking people and even “misleading the various forums including the Hon’ble Supreme Court by filing false and fabricated affidavits and even by writing letters to UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) for which she was warned by the Hon’ble Supreme Court,” it said.

Setalvad instituted litigations without any basis and made witnesses file false affidavits before various forums including the Supreme Court with the intention to “implicate innocent persons and to unsettle the government and with an intention to tarnish the image of the then Hon’ble Chief Minister and thereby to send him to jail and compel him to resign”, it said.

Showing her any leniency will encourage people to openly help an entity fulfil its agenda in an illegal and unlawful manner by playing with the sentiments of the community and changing the mindset of people in order to see to it that a particular political party gets sufficient swing in their favour, it said.

“Prima facie, this court is of the view that, today, if the applicant like this is enlarged on bail, that will deepen and widen the communal polarisation,” the court observed.

The court is also of prima facie view that Setalvad – a “very influential person” – can go to any extent to achieve her agenda as she did in the past “by influencing the witnesses and by aggressively propagating against government and its machinery as well as the then chief minister”, the court said.

The accused also showed courage in the past “to threaten the witnesses, tamper with the evidence and influence the people”, it said.

Setalvad was taken into custody on June 25 last year along with former Gujarat Director General of Police R B Sreekumar and ex-IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt in an offence registered by Ahmedabad crime branch police for allegedly fabricating evidence to frame “innocent people” in the post-Godhra riots cases.

An Ahmedabad sessions court had on July 30, 2022, rejected the bail applications of Setalvad and Sreekumar in the case, saying their release will send a message to wrongdoers that a person can level allegations with impunity and get away with it.

The HC had on August 3, 2022, issued a notice to the state government on the bail plea of Setalvad and fixed the matter for hearing on September 19. Meanwhile, she moved the Supreme Court (SC) for interim bail after the high court refused to consider her plea for the same.

The SC on September 2 last year granted her interim bail and asked her to surrender her passport with the trial court till the time the Gujarat High Court decided her regular bail plea. She walked out of jail on September 3.

The case against Setalvad and the two others was registered after the June 24 verdict of the apex court in the Zakia Jafri case.

While dismissing the petition filed by Zakia Jafri whose husband and former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri was killed during the riots, the SC observed that “it appears to us that a coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the State of Gujarat along with others was to create sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge”.

All those involved in such abuse of process “need to be in the dock and proceed in accordance with law,” the Supreme Court had said.

The 2002 Gujarat riots were triggered by the torching of a coach of Sabarmati Express by a mob near Godhra station on February 27 that year. Fifty-nine passengers, mostly Hindu Karsevaks returning from Ayodhya, were charred to death in the incident.

Last month, the trial court rejected Sreekumar’s plea for discharge in the case. Sreekumar is also out on interim bail in the case granted by Gujarat HC.

Bhatt, the third accused in the case, has not applied for bail. Bhatt was already in jail for another criminal matter when he was arrested in this case.

The three accused were arrested after an FIR was registered against them under Indian Penal Code sections 468 (forgery for cheating) and 194 (fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction for capital offences).

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