The Supreme Court on Thursday directed Gujarat Police not to arrest social activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband in a case of alleged embezzlement of funds for a museum at Ahmedabad’s Gulbarg Society that was devastated in the 2002 riots.
“It is directed that the petitioners (Setalvad and her husband) will not be arrested in connection with the case,” a bench comprising justices Dipak Misra and Adarsh Kumar Goel said, while reserving its judgement on their plea seeking anticipatory bail.
The apex court directed Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand to provide all documents, vouchers and list of persons who gave donations to their NGOs Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace for carrying out investigation in the case.
The bench accepted the request of their counsel Kapil Sibal that their accountant will be allowed to represent along with them before the Gujarat Police during the inquiry.
On the apprehension of Gujarat Police on the issue of non-cooperation of the accused during the investigation, the bench told senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, appearing for the Gujarat government, “If they will not cooperate with you in the investigation, you can file an application before us for cancellation of their bail.”
The bench declined to give any commitment to Sibal whether the inquiry will be limited to post-2007 donations received by the two trusts for setting up a museum in memory of the victims or it will cover the activities of NGOs since 2002.
The apex court was hearing the appeal filed by Setalvad and her husband against the judgement of the Gujarat High Court which rejected their plea for anticipatory bail for not cooperating with the investigation.
The Gujarat government faced some tough questions from the bench which asked, “Is this such a case where the liberty should be taken away or curtailed?
“What is the need for personal or custodial interrogation?” the bench asked Jethmalani who said that it is a case of “rank non-cooperation” and “tampering with witness” by the accused.
However, the bench said, the question is “can the liberty of a person be put on ventilator of the ICU?”
At the outset, Sibal said no citizen is above the law and if any wrong has been committed, that person has to bear the consequences but, at the same time, the state can also be not allowed to prosecute the people who have been fighting the state.
He submitted that Setalvad and her husband have been protected by the court in six FIRs and this was the seventh FIR lodged by Gujarat Police accusing them of misappropriating crores of rupees but the fact was they had raised only Rs 4.60 lakh.
He submitted that the accused were ready to place entire documents and also ready for scrutiny of each and every entry of the account book.
The bench wanted to know from Jethmalani as to why Setalvad and her husband were required to be taken for custodial interrogation.
Jethmalani said maximum opportunity was given to them but they have not cooperated in the investigation in the case in which they have collected money in the name of the riot victims.