Supreme Court stays Gujarat High Court order directing Teesta Setalvad to surrender immediately

Top court directs the case to be placed before an appropriate Bench in a week; the High Court had dismissed the activist’s bail plea and asked her to surrender in a forgery case linked to the 2002 riots

July 01, 2023 10:17 pm | Updated July 02, 2023 09:12 am IST - NEW DELHI

Activist Teesta Setalvad. File

Activist Teesta Setalvad. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on Saturday stayed for a week a Gujarat High Court judgment directing activist Teesta Setalvad to surrender immediately in a forgery case linked to the 2002 riots.

The reprieve for Ms. Setalvad came on the same day after a Single Judge Bench of the Gujarat High Court dismissed her plea for regular bail and refused to give her 30 days to surrender.

Hours after the High Court order, Ms. Setalvad had applied to the Supreme Court for interim protection from immediate arrest. However, a Division Bench of Justices A.S. Oka and P.K. Mishra could not reach a consensus even at 7 p.m. and referred the case back to the Chief Justice of India to be listed before a larger Bench.

“What is the urgency in taking her into custody? Will the skies fall if interim protection is granted for some days? We are taken by surprise by what the high court has done. What is the alarming urgency? Why was she not given even a week,” Justice B.R. Gavai asked immediately after the three-judge Bench assembled after 9.30 pm.

The Bench pointed out that Ms. Setalvad was given interim bail by the Supreme Court in the same case on September 2, 2022. She had not violated any bail condition.

“When a person is enjoying liberty under the orders of the Supreme Court for nearly a year, why did the High Court not grant her even a week’s interim protection,” Justice Gavai asked.

Also Read | Relief, rebuff: On Teesta Setalvad bail plea

Appearing for Gujarat, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta said Ms. Setalvad was no “ordinary criminal”. She had “maligned the State and maligned the entire nation”. He referred to an earlier judgment in the Zakia Jafri case, concerning allegations of a “larger conspiracy” behind the riots, in which the top court had itself observed that she should be put “in the dock” for keeping the “pot boiling” in Gujarat.

It was after this judgment that the ATS Squad from Gujarat descended on Ms. Setalvad and arrested her in Mumbai on June 26 last year.

Justice Gavai said even an ordinary criminal would have got more time to surrender.

Justice Dipankar Datta said the case concerned the liberty of a person. The Supreme Court should not have used “harsh words” like putting “in the dock”. Such observations would deter a Magistrate from even considering bail for her.

Justice Gavai pointed out that the Supreme Court while granting her interim bail in the case on September 2, last year, had also considered the fact that she was a woman and entitled to benefits under Section 437 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Noting that the Bench was not going into the merits of the case, Justice Gavai, pronouncing the order, said the Single Judge should have at least granted seven days’ time.

Reiterating that Ms. Setalvad was a woman and entitled to special benefits, the Bench proceeded to freeze the High Court order.

“One of the factors which weighed with this court while granting her interim bail on September 2, 2022 was that the petitioner was a woman and was entitled to special protection under Section 437 CrPC… Taking into consideration this fact, the Single Judge ought to have granted her some time. We stay the order of the Single Judge Bench of the Gujarat High Court for a period of one week,” the order said.

The Bench directed the Registry to list the case before a Regular Bench for further consideration in a week.

Ms. Setalvad is accused of forgery, fabrication of evidence, making false charges of offences with intent to injure, conspiracy in connection with the 2002 riots cases.

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