The Supreme Court on Friday ordered release of social activist Teesta Setalvad, who was arrested by the Ahmedabad police from her Mumbai home on June 26 on the charge of conspiracy to destabilise the Gujarat government after the 2002 riots.
The court said the police had enough time to interrogate her. On Thursday, the SC said that the listed offences are “not bodily offences” and that she is entitled to bail as a woman, especially when a chargesheet has not been filed.
The presiding judge of the three-judge Bench, Chief Justice of India Uday Umesh Lalit put on record in his order that Setalvad was interrogated every day by the investigating machinery during her custody for about seven days, and the probe continued thereafter in magisterial custody.
Allowing the bail on cash surety in the possible absence of local sureties, the Bench – also comprising Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhnshu Dhulia – asked Setalvad to surrender her passport till the matter is considered by the Gujarat High Court.
Noting that Setalvad’s case is still pending before the Gujarat High Court, the Bench said it’s not considering whether she be released on bail or not as that issue has to be considered by the HC. “We are considering only from the standpoint whether the custody of the appellant must be insisted upon during the consideration of the matter,” the Bench noted.
The court further said, “The entire matter on merits will be considered by the HC independently and uninfluenced by any observations made by this court.” It also clarified that the order, passed considering the facts, including that she is a woman, shall not be used by other accused and their submissions be considered purely on their merits.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that the activist had refused to answer questions during interrogation, and the chargesheet has not been filed as the probe is at a crucial stage.
On the Chief Justice of India’s concern on Thursday on the high court adjourning Setalvad’s bail plea for six weeks, without granting an interim relief, the Solicitor General also told the court that he had enquired and found that the “high court uniformly did what it does with everyone”. He referred to certain orders of August where the next date of hearing was fixed in October.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Setalvad, countered that he has a list of 28 matters where the same judge, who adjourned her case, had granted bail in just a few days. However, the SC raised a strong objection to Sibal’s intervention and urged him not to “malign” the state or the judiciary. “He is one of the finest judges; don’t say anything behind his back… He did not deviate from the uniform practice,” the court said.