Free Press Journal

SC constitutes 3-judge bench on Teesta’s fund embezzlement case



New Delhi:  The Supreme Court has constituted a three-judge bench to hear afresh the anticipatory bail plea of Teesta Setalvad and her husband in the case of alleged embezzlement of funds for a museum at Ahmedabad’s Gulbarg Society that was devastated in the 2002 riots. The apex court registry issued a notice listing the matter for hearing on April 21 before the three-judge bench. However, the names of the judges sitting in the bench will be known later.

The anticipatory bail plea of Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand would be heard afresh as a two-judge bench on March 19 had referred it to the larger bench and had extended its interim order protecting them against arrest till the larger bench takes up the matter. A bench comprising Justice Dipak Misra and Adarsh Kumar Goel had said the larger bench will have to consider as to whether a person can be granted anticipatory bail when issues like liberty and fair and effective probe are to be decided simultaneously.

The couple has challenged the Gujarat High Court February 12 order denying them anticipatory bail. Hours after the High Court verdict, they had rushed to the apex court which had stayed the order for a day and later on February 13, a bench of Justices S J Mukhopadhya (Since retired) and N V Ramana extended the interim order till February 19.

However, a controversy cropped up a day before the hearing, when the matter was referred to a new bench of Justices Misra and Goel as there was no reason assigned by the apex court registry for the change of the bench. After reserving for a month, the bench headed by Justice Misra referred the matter to a larger bench by noting that the interim order of February 12, 13 and March 19 on the stay of High Court order would continue till the case is taken up. The bench, as an interim measure, had directed on February 19 that Setalvad and her husband “shall not be arrested in connection with FIR, registered with DCP, Crime Branch, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.”

Setalvad and her husband have been booked by the Crime Branch of Gujarat Police on charges of cheating, breach of trust and under the IT Act, in a matter relating to the construction of “Museum of Resistance” in the Gulbarg Society in Ahmedabad which was hit by communal riots in 2002. The High Court, in its February 12 judgement, had observed that Setalvad and her husband were not cooperating in the probe and that “they cannot be armoured with full-fledged anticipatory bail when applicants did not cooperate with the investigation”. A bench of justices Mukhopadhya and Ramana had asked some tough questions to Setalvad and her husband for seeking anticipatory bail, saying allegations against them were “grave”. Later, another bench headed by Justice Misra had clarified that non-cooperation by Setalvad and her husband into the investigation would give liberty to Gujarat police to move application for cancellation of bail.

It had also directed the accused to hand over the list of documents sought from them by the Gujarat police to carry forward its investigation into the case. While senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Setalvad had denied all allegations, Gujarat Government’s counsel Mahesh Jethmalani had told the court that the couple have shown “arrogance and contempt” towards the state government which no other person would have shown. “They have not been answering any question and there is a stock answer and stock replies,” he had said, adding that they used the money of Sabrang Trust and CJP to pay dues of credit cards used for personal purposes like beauty saloons, wines, branded clothes, shoes, jewellery and watches.

He had said the FIR was based on the RTI information and it was clear that they had received huge donations from both national and international donors to the tune of Rs 80 lakhs in Sabrang Trust and Rs 63 lakhs in (Citizens for Justice and Peace) CJP. There was no audit of the accounts of the two trusts for six years and accounts were not lodged with the Charity Commissioner.