NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday granted interim bail to activist Teesta Setalvad, accused of conspiracy to allege that the top echelons of the Gujarat administration and police did not act in time to curb the riots in the aftermath of the Sabarmati Express fire at Godhra station, in which 59 people died in 2002.
Granting interim bail to Setalvad, who has been incarcerated for over two months, a bench comprising Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia noted that she had undergone seven days of custodial interrogation by the Gujarat police before she was remanded to judicial custody.
The top court ordered Ms Setalvad to be released by Saturday and said that the trial court will impose conditions to ensure her presence and participation in the investigation. It also ordered Setalvad to deposit her passport with the trial court.
The court in its order said that Gujarat High Court would decide Setalvad’s plea for bail independently and on merits without being influenced by the observations made by it in the course of the hearing of the matter.
Setalvad was arrested by Gujarat police on June 25 and the session’s court declined her bail plea on July 30. The Gujarat High Court, while hearing her bail plea on August 3, posted the matter for consideration on September 19.
In response to a poser during Thursday’s hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Gujarat government, said that it was a normal practice in the High Court to post the bail matter for hearing after six weeks and produced several instances to back up his assertion.
However, appearing for Setalvad, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who placed before the court a chart showing that the same judge had given bail in just two days, disputed the SG’s assertion.
Countering it, Mehta said that Setalvad had maligned the Gujarat state and its instrumentalities in the past and was now maligning the judge as well. In response Sibal said, “She has not leveled any allegation against any institution or a judge.”
Taking exception to the Gujarat High Court’s posting of Setalvad’s bail plea after six weeks, the top court on Tursday asked the Solicitor General if it was a standard practice for the state High Court to post bail matters, including those involving women prisoners, after six weeks.
As the court sought to know what the investigating agency found during the seven-day long custodial interrogation of the activist Setalvad, Mehta said that she was “too powerful” and “did not cooperate”.
“She is an intelligent person and did not answer the questions,” SG told the court.
Sibal told the court that she cannot be more powerful than the Gujarat state. “Who can be more powerful than the state,” Sibal said, pointing out that Setalvad is 60 years -old.
As Mehta reeled out the allegations against Setalvad, referring to statements recorded by the magistrate court under Sections 161 and 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, Justice Lalit asked how he (Gujarat police) was in possession of the statement of a witness under Section 164 as it has to be in a sealed cover and in the custody of the magistrate.
Referring to the allegation by the Gujarat police against Setalvad, Sibal said that it was a repetition of same allegations made in the past cases and in one instance the top court had given relief to the activists and it was not disclosed by the solicitor general to the court today in the course of his arguments.
Sibal said that it was not a prosecution of Setalvad by the Gujarat police but a persecution.
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