Granting only a partial relief, the Gujarat High Court on Friday quashed the summons issued by the police against the Mumbai-based social activist and general secretary of the Citizens for Justice and Peace, Teesta Setalvad, in connection with the 2006 Lunawada mass grave digging case.
The “summons” was issued by the investigating officer asking Ms. Setalvad to appear before him on May 31 for questioning in connection with the case. The vacation judge, G. B. Shah, quashed the summons which the court believed was based on the erroneous charge sheet filed against her describing her as an “absconding accused.” The court gave 15 days' time to the police to “rectify” the charge sheet since she was not an “absconder” before continuing with the investigation.
The court, however, did not quash the FIR as Ms. Setalvad's advocate, Kamini Jaiswal, did not press for it. The court, however, observed that the investigating officer had made a “grave mistake” by describing her as an “absconding accused” who, the charge sheet claimed, was “not co-operating in the investigation” even after she was granted bail by a local court. Justice Shah said the prosecution had also failed to show “even one instance” to justify its claim that Ms. Setalvad was not cooperating in the probe.
Ms. Setalvad had approached the High Court earlier with the plea for quashing of both the FIR and the summonses issued by the investigating officer, but during the hearing of the case, her advocate did not press for quashing of the FIR and pleaded only for quashing the summons. Ms. Setalvad had also said that she was in regular touch with the investigating officer and was fully cooperating in the probe and there was no question of her being “absconding.”
Justice Shah accepted the plea of Ms. Jaiswal, that Ms. Setalvad was not even present at the grave digging site, Panderwada on the banks of Panam river close to Lunawada town in the Panchamahals district, and quashed the summons against her. Ms. Jaiswal had also claimed that the State government was acting with malafide intentions against her. She maintained that the FIR against Ms. Setalvad was “motivated” and was intended to “stop her from helping the victims of 2002 communal riots in their legal battles.”
The State government pleader, Prakash Jani, had submitted before the court a report of the sanitary inspector of the Lunawada Municipality describing the circumstances leading to the “official burial” of 28 bodies of riot victims at Panderwada because the bodies were “unclaimed.” Later, some persons claiming to be relatives of those who were buried had dug up the mass graves without any permission. Among the grave diggers were erstwhile CJP field coordinator Rais Khan Pathan and others, Mr. Jani told the court.
Ms. Setalvad was granted anticipatory bail in the case by a local court on February 15 this year, but it was opposed by her co-accused including Mr. Pathan, Ghulam Kharadi and others who testified before the magistrate that they had dug up the burial ground at the behest of Ms. Setalvad.
The charges against Ms. Setalvad in the FIR included fabricating false evidence, causing disappearance of evidence, criminal conspiracy, hurting religious feelings, trespass into burial place and others.