An Ahmedabad court on Saturday denied bail to activist Teesta Setalvad and former Director General of Police RB Sreekumar, who were arrested on June 26 for allegedly committing forgery and fabricating evidence in a case related to the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Additional Sessions Judge DD Thakkar, who had deferred the order multiple times this week, passed the verdict on the day of his retirement.
The judge said that based on statements given by witnesses, it appeared that a “political faction” had provided funds to Setalvad to portray the riots as having been incited by the government. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the riots.
“On perusing statement of witnesses, it appears that both these applicants and others were actively involved in the conspiracy against the then CM [Narendra Modi] and ministers, police officers as well as [bureaucrats],” the court said in the order.
The court added that documents submitted by the police showed that Setalvad and Sreekumar used Zakia Jafri, the wife of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, as a tool to make allegations against Modi. Ehsan Jafri was hacked to death when a mob went on a rampage in Gulberg Society on February 28, 2002, setting fire to homes.
Zakia Jafri and Setalvad’s non-governmental organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace had moved the Supreme Court challenging the report of a Special Investigation Team that had cleared Modi of involvement in the riots. They sought a fresh investigation into the “larger conspiracy” behind the violence.
In the aftermath of the carnage, Setalvad founded the organisation that assisted the victims in filing cases, arranged funds to pursue the matters in courts and offered protection to witnesses. Sreekumar, meanwhile, had questioned the role of officers from his own department during the riots.
But in his order passed on Saturday, the judge alleged that Setalvad and Sreekumar levelled the allegations in order to “defame the country” and get monetary benefits from other nations.
The court claimed that Setalvad had earlier attempted to put pressure on the media and her conduct showed that she could try to derail the investigation in the ongoing case if she is granted bail.
“If the applicants-accused are enlarged on bail then it would impliedly encourage to the wrong does that in-spite of doing such type of accusations against the then CM and others, the court has lightly enlarged the accused on bail,” the order read.
Arguments before the court
During the hearing in the forgery case, the Gujarat government had opposed the bail applications of Setalvad and Sreekumar.
In an affidavit filed on July 15, the Gujarat Police alleged that Setalvad was part of a larger conspiracy along with Sreekumar and former Indian Police Service officer Sanjiv Bhatt to destabilise the elected state government after the 2002 riots.
This conspiracy, the police claimed, was planned at the behest of Ahmed Patel, a former Congress MP.
Both Setalvad and Sreekumar have contested this allegation.
Setalvad has claimed that the charges levied against her were not backed by evidence and not maintainable under law. Sreekumar has also claimed that no offence was made out against him under the Indian Penal Code.
Setalvad’s and Sreekumar’s arrest
On June 24, the Supreme Court dismissed Zakia Jafri and Setalvad’s plea challenging Modi’s exoneration in the violence.
While dismissing the petition, the court noted that certain people had filed the petition “to keep the pot boiling for ulterior design”. It said that these people must be “in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law”.
A day after the judgement, Setalvad and Sreekumar were booked by the Gujarat Police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad. The first information report filed against them quoted heavily from the Supreme Court judgement.
Just before she was arrested, Union Home Minister Amit Shah accused Setalvad of feeding baseless information to the police about the riots to tarnish Modi’s image.