Stay on Setalvad's arrest extended

New Delhi


The Supreme Court Friday extended its interim protection restraining the Gujarat Police from arresting social activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand in an alleged case of misappropriating funds for a museum marking one of the worst carnages during the 2002 riots.

A bench of Justice Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya and Justice N.V. Ramana extended the restraint order passed Thursday by the bench headed by Chief Justice H.L.Dattu as they directed the hearing of the petition by Setalvad and Anand Feb 19.

It also permitted their counsel Kapil Sibal to file additional documents including their pleas before the Gujarat High Court.

As Sibal, at the hearing's beginning, remarked there were "very few people who have the courage of taking on the state", the court asked him to avoid political flavours to his submission as for it, every litigant was a common citizen.

At this, Sibal said his clients were common citizens and can't be treated differently as he contended they were being singled out. He noted Gujarat Police reached Setalvad's residence in Mumbai to arrest her even before the high court verdict rejecting their plea for anticipatory bail was pronounced.

In a parting observation after adjourning the matter, Justice Mukhopadhaya said that "there will be justice to both but relief to one".

As the hearing began, the court said that they have not gone through the high court judgment and would hold an independent hearing on the facts as it asked Sibal to read the FIR.

Assailing the high court judgment, Sibal said it had drawn conclusions which were contrary to the documents that were placed before it.

As he told the court that it had held that custodial interrogation could be only in cases of murder, dacoity or other heinous crimes and not in cases of alleged cheating and misappropriation, Justice Mukhopadhaya said at that time, there were no scams running into crores and crores of rupees.

There was no scam here either, Sibal said, contending that if there are allegations of cheating and misappropriation, then the same could only be levelled by the people who had donated money for the setting up of the museum at Gulberg society in Ahmedabad and not by those who are not associated with it.

"Who is the person who is cheated? Is he a donor? Is there a complaint by a donor? If (at all) there is a breach of trust, it is that of donor. The complaint was on the forged letter of the society," he argued.

Noting that Setalvad had used the photographs of the victims to mobilise funds for the museum, the court said that the "allegations are so grave".

"You have collected funds (taking) undue advantage of riot victims... shown their photographs to foreigners and obtained money," it said.

In return, Sibal said: "If this is the approach of this court, don't allow the might of the state, show us single piece of evidence (supporting the allegations)."

He told the court that Seetalvad's NGO received a little more than Rs.4 lakh from the donors from within the country and Rs.50,000 from abroad to set up the museum.

As Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta sought to meet Sibal's submission by referring to the high court judgment, Justice Mukhopadhaya reminded him that they have not read it.

As Mehta cited the alleged ostentatious life style of Setalvad and her husband and their foreign travels, a lawyer in the court referred to the Rs.10 lakh suit Prime Minister Narendra Modi wore during his talks with visiting US President Barack Obama.

Setalvad and her husband, who have been fighting for the victims of the communal carnage in Gujarat following the Feb 27, 2002 Godhra train burning, have been accused of misappropriating around Rs.15 million collected through their NGO Sabrang Trust for setting up a museum at the Gulbarga Society in Ahmedabad, where 69 people were killed.

The complaint was filed by 12 residents of the society after the plans for the proposed museum were put in cold storage citing various issues.

However, Setalvad has termed the allegation as "politically motivated".

On Thursday, the Gujarat High Court rejected the anticipatory bail pleas filed by Setalvad, Anand, Tanvir Jafri, son of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the riots, and Firoze Gulzar, a resident of the Gulbarga Society. - IANS