“…There is nothing for the police to insist on custody”: SC grills Gujarat govt on Teesta Setalvad’s bail plea

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday expressed concern that the Gujarat High Court, hearing the bail plea of activist Teesta Setalvad, issued notice returnable by six weeks and asked the Gujarat government to bring on record details of cases where in a matter involving a woman, the high court has given such a long adjournment.

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. Setalvad has been under custody since June 25 for allegedly fabricating documents to frame high-ranking officials including then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 riots cases in the state.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice U.U. Lalit and comprising Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, after hearing his submissions, that “we still have not got the material against her”, and added that the petitioner has been in custody for over 2 months.

Also, the 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 bench told Mehta, representing the Gujarat government, to give cases where a woman has been confined on charges like these and the time given by the high court is six weeks.

It queried: “Are you making an exception in case of this lady… how could HC make notice returnable by 6 weeks. Is that the standard practice in the high court?”

After hearing Mehta’s submissions at length, the bench said: “If we give interim bail and list the matter for September 19.”. To this, Mehta said: “I strongly oppose, I would argue it is more serious than a murder case.”

Chief Justice Lalit orally observed that offences against Setalvad are 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 after normal police custody is over, there is nothing for the police to insist on custody…”.

The Chief Justice further queried that the FIR is nothing more of what happened in the top court, is there any additional material apart from the apex court judgment?

After a detailed hearing, the top court scheduled the matter for further hearing at 2 p.m. on Friday.

Concluding the hearing, the Chief Justice said: “Give us instances where the lady accused in such cases have got such dates from the High Court. Either this lady has been made an exceptiona..”. Mehta said for men and women, the dates are the same.

The top court was hearing a bail plea by Setalvad.

On June 24, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal filed by Zakia Jafri, wife of Congress leader Ehsan Jafri who was killed during the violence at Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Society in 2002, challenging the SIT’s clean chit to the then Chief Minister Modi and others during the riots in the state.

A bench headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar (now retired) said that the present proceedings have been pursued for last 16 years (from submission of complaint dated June 8, 2006 running into 67 pages and then by filing 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 with in accordance with law,” it said.


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