The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted regular bail to activist Teesta Setalvad in a case of alleged fabrication of evidence in relation to the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The court set aside an order of the Gujarat High Court rejecting her plea for regular bail and asking her to surrender immediately on July 1, saying that it was “totally perverse” and “contradictory”, reported Live Law.
A bench of Justices BR Gavai, AS Bopanna and Dipankar Datta noted that a chargesheet has been filed in the case against Setalvad and that her custodial interrogation is not necessary.
“The already surrendered passport of the appellant [Setalvad] will be in the custody of session court,” the Supreme Court said in its order. “The appellant shall not make any attempt to influence witnesses and shall stay away from them.”
During the hearing, Justice Gavai raised questions over the motives and timing of Setalvad’s arrest, reported NDTV.
“What were you doing till 2022?” he asked the prosecution. “What investigation have you done from June 24 and June 25 that you decided she has done something so heinous as to warrant her arrest?”
Justice Datta criticised the notion of holding someone in custody until a verdict is announced.
“Initially, we were feeling that there was a case under Section 194 [fabricating false evidence],” Justice Datta said. “Now we think the case under Section 194 is suspect. And you want someone to be undertrial and in custody, till verdict is pronounced.”
Setalvad and former state Director General of Police RB Sreekumar were arrested on June 26 last year. Both of them along with former Indian Police Service officer Sanjiv Bhatt have been accused of fabricating evidence about the 2002 Gujarat riots with the objective to destabilise the state government.
More than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in the riots. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat at the time.
Setalvad and Sreekumar’s bail pleas were rejected by the sessions court on July 30, after which they approached the High Court.
Setalvad later moved to the Supreme Court after objecting to a long gap between the hearings in the High Court. She was granted interim bail on September 2. On November 25, Sreekumar also secured interim bail for two months from the Gujarat High Court.
In the July 1 judgement, Justice Nirzar Desai of the Gujarat High Court had claimed that Setalvad had attempted to unsettle a democratically-elected government and tarnish the image of Modi.
However, hours later in a special late-night hearing, Justices Gavai, Bopanna and Datta had stayed the High Court order for a week. The bench added that when the Supreme Court had granted the activist interim bail on September 2, it had noted that she was entitled to special protection as a woman under the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The court had said that the Gujarat High Court should have granted at least some protection to Setalvad so that she had sufficient time to challenge the order. On July 5, it had again extended the interim protection from arrest granted to her till July 19.