SC accepts Gujarat’s request to adjourn Teesta bail hearing but points out that she continues to remain ‘behind bars’

“There is nothing special but the petitioner has been in custody,” Justice U.U. Lalit observed.

August 25, 2022 04:20 pm | Updated 04:55 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Social activist Teesta Setalvad being produced at Metropolitan Magistrate court in Ahmedabad, Saturday, July 2, 2022.

Social activist Teesta Setalvad being produced at Metropolitan Magistrate court in Ahmedabad, Saturday, July 2, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on Thursday underscored that activist Teesta Setalvad is behind bars even as the Gujarat government maintained that she is in custody as per the law and there is nothing “special” about her case while seeking an adjournment to fine-tune its reply to her plea for bail.

“There is nothing special but the petitioner has been in custody,” Justice U.U. Lalit observed, initially asking the State to file its reply later in the morning so that the court could take up the case at 2 p.m.

But pressing for an adjournment till Monday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said Ms. Setalvad was in custody in “accordance with law”. He said the State’s reply was ready but he had not been happy with it.

Mr. Mehta said the offence was serious and the petitioner had not exhausted her other legal remedies.

"We are also testing it, whether incarceration is required or not," Justice Lalit replied.

Then, following a brief interaction with Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia on the Bench, Justice Lalit posted the case as the first item in its list of cases for Tuesday, August 30. The court said it was not possible to hear the case on Monday as the current combination of judges was not available.

The Bench asked the State to file its reply by Saturday and told senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for Ms. Setalvad, to file a rejoinder by Monday.

The intervention on the part of the State came as soon as the Bench assembled for the day and before the case was called up for hearing number wise.

Ms. Setalvad is accused of fabricating evidence to frame high functionaries of the Gujarat government in a case related to the 2002 riots.

On an earlier occasion, when the case was mentioned for urgent hearing, Mr. Sibal had argued that the FIR registered in Ahmedabad, on which Ms. Setalvad has been arrested, was a mere recantation of observations made by the Supreme Court judgment in the Zakia Jafri case. "Nothing more has been alleged against the petitioner. Yet, she was taken into custody," Mr. Sibal argued.

In July, an Ahmedabad Sessions Court had refused bail to Ms. Setalvad and others in the case, observing that they had tried to "destabilise" the State government and defame its top functionaries to serve ulterior motives. The Sessions Court had said that granting them bail would send the wrong message.

In early August, the Gujarat High Court had issued notice to the Special Investigation Team on a plea for bail by Ms. Setalvad and former Director General of Police R.B. Sreekumar. The High Court had posted the case on September 19.

Ms. Setalvad has argued that bail matters should not be delayed and has to be heard expeditiously.

She was arrested in Mumbai on June 25 by the Gujarat ATS, a day after the Supreme Court dismissed allegations of "larger conspiracy" levelled by Zakia Jafri, widow of Congress leader Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the 2002 Gujarat riots, against former Chief Minister Narendra Modi and over 60 senior state officials.

In its judgment in the Jafri case, the apex court had snubbed petitioners like Ms. Setalvad, who had fought the case on the behalf of Ms. Jafri for decades. The top court had said the "protagonists of quest for justice sitting in a comfortable environment in their air-conditioned office may succeed in connecting failures of the State administration at different levels during such horrendous situation, little knowing or even referring to the ground realities and the continual effort put in by the duty holders in controlling the spontaneous evolving situation unfolding aftermath mass violence across the state".

The judgment had said the false allegations against the state functionaries were the work of disgruntled officials. The top court had said that these officials should be in the dock for "keeping the pot boiling" and need to be proceeded against under the law.

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