Teesta Setalvad’s NGO lacks standing to file petition against anti-conversion laws, Centre tells SC
The Union government alleged that Citizens for Justice and Peace collected huge funds by ‘exploiting the agonies’ of the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Activist Teesta Setalvad’s non-governmental organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace does not have the standing to file a petition challenging anti-conversion laws, the Centre submitted before the Supreme Court on Monday, reported Live Law.
The NGO is among several organisations that have approached various courts challenging anti-conversion laws in states, including in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. In these state, the law requires prior permission to be obtained for religious conversions for marriage.
A bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud is hearing an application seeking all petitions on the matter be transferred from High Courts to the Supreme Court.
In an affidavit, the Centre told the bench that it is a settled position of law that the court is expected to look into the credentials of a petitioner while deciding on whether to take up the matter.
“The petitioner [Citizens for Justice and Peace] is guilty of collecting huge funds, exploiting the agonies of [2002 Gujarat] riot affected people for which criminal proceedings are going on against Ms Teesta Setalvad and other office-bearers of the petitioner,” the affidavit said.
The Centre alleged that Citizens for Justice and Peace espouses divisive policies in an attempt to divide society on religious lines, according to Live Law. “Similar activities of the petitioner organisation are also found in other states,” it told the court. “Presently this activity is going on in the state of Assam.”
The Union government said that the prayers of Citizens for Justice and Peace were similar to those of other petitioners, and urged the court to instead hear the other pleas.
Meanwhile, the Centre also opposed the transfer of the petitions before the Supreme Court, The Indian Express reported. Attorney General R Venkataramani contended that High Courts should hear the cases as they pertain to state legislations.
The Supreme Court has listed the matter for further hearing on February 3.
FIRs against Setalvad
In 2014, the Ahmedabad Crime Branch had registered an FIR on charges of cheating, breach of trust and under the Information Technology Act in a matter related to the construction of the Museum of Resistance in the city’s Gulberg Housing Society.
During the 2002 Gujarat riots, a mob had killed 69 persons at Gulberg Society on February 28, 2002, throwing stones and setting fire to homes. Former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri had also been killed in the attack.
Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand, trustees of two non-profits – Citizens for Justice and Peace and Sabrang Trust – were accused of having raised crores of rupees as donation but not using the money to build the museum or provide aid to residents of the Gulberg Society.
Setalvad and Anand are also accused of having misused foreign funds and illegally securing Central government funds.
The Gujarat Police have also filed a case against the activist for allegedly fabricating evidence against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the 2002 Gujarat riots. She was arrested in the matter on June 26 and is currently out on interim bail.