SC says no reason to deny Teesta bail, scolds Gujarat HC for delaying it

During the hearing, the top court made an oral observation if it were to grant bail to Setalvad, but it did not pass an order.

Darshan DesaiUpdated: Thursday, September 01, 2022, 10:46 PM IST
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SC says no reason to deny Teesta bail, scolds Gujarat HC for delaying it | PTI

The Supreme Court on Thursday wondered why the Gujarat High Court posted the hearing on the bail application of human rights activist Teesta Setalvad after as many as six weeks and asked the Gujarat government to cite instances where the high court gave such a long adjournment in a case involving a woman.

Significantly – and simultaneously – the apex court also sought to know from the Gujarat government the exact details of the charges against Teesta Setalvad given that the police FIR against her was mostly a copy-paste from the Supreme Court’s earlier order rejecting Zakia Jafri’s plea against the then chief minister, Narendra Modi.

Zakia, widow of slain former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, killed in the 2002 riots, had been fighting a legal battle alleging the complicity of Modi and his state government.

Regarding Setalvad's bail application, the apex court made an oral observation if it were to grant bail to her, but stopped short of passing an order. The human rights activist has been under custody since June 25 for allegedly fabricating documents to frame high-ranking officials, including Narendra Modi, in the 2002 riots.

Referring to the case against her, a bench led by Chief Justice U.U. Lalit and comprising Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that "We still have not got the material against her." The bench said the petitioner was in custody for over two months and that her case should not require such a long time in custody, especially since she is a woman.

Taking note of the fact that the Gujarat High Court had issued notice on August 3 on her bail plea and granted a long adjournment, making the notice returnable by 6 weeks. The court asked Mehta to bring examples of where a woman had been confined on charges like these, and the time given by the high court is six weeks.

The Chief Justice asserted, "Are you making an exception in the case of this lady? How could HC make the notice returnable by 6 weeks? Is that the standard practise in the high court? "

Following the Solicitor-General’s submissions, the three-judge bench stated, "If we give interim bail and list the matter for September 19." To this, Mehta said: "I strongly oppose it. I would argue it is more serious than a murder case."

Chief Justice Lalit ridiculed him, observing that the offences against Setalvad were normal IPC offences, having no bar on grant of bail. "These are not offences like murder or bodily injury but based on documents like forgery etc. In these matters, the normal idea is that after normal police custody is over, there is nothing for the police to insist on custody... "

And then the Chief Justice asserted that the "FIR is nothing more than what happened in the top court. Is there any additional material apart from the apex court judgment?" After a detailed hearing, the bench scheduled the next hearing for 2 p.m. on Friday.

The top court was hearing a bail plea by Setalvad.

On June 24, the top court dismissed the appeal filed by Zakia Jafri challenging the SIT's clean chit to Modi and others in the riots.

The Supreme Court had said the present proceedings have been pursued for the last 16 years (from the submission of a complaint dated June 8, 2006, running into 67 pages and then by filing a 514-page protest petition dated April 15, 2013), including with the audacity to question the integrity of every functionary involved in the process of exposing the devious stratagem adopted. "To keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design. "As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process need to be in the dock and proceeded against in accordance with the law," the apex court had said.

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