SC extends interim protection for Teesta Setalvad in 2002 post-Godhra riots case

Teesta Setalvad
During the late night hearing on July 1, the three-judge bench had questioned the denial of time to Setalvad to appeal against the high court's order. Photo: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP

New Delhi: In a case connected to the 2002 post-Godhra riots, the Supreme Court has granted activist Teesta Setalvad an extension of interim protection from arrest until July 19. A bench of Justices B R Gavai, A S Bopanna and Dipankar Datta issued notice to the Gujarat government on the appeal filed by Setalvad against the Gujarat High Court order.

"Issue notice returnable on July 19, 2023. Whatever documents parties want to place on record shall be filed prior to July 15 after exchanging with each other. Interim order to continue until further orders," the bench said. At the outset, Additional Solicitor General S V Raju sought time from the top court, saying he needs time for translation of documents. The bench agreed to his request and posted the matter for hearing on July 19.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Setalvad, urged the bench to hear the matter urgently. The apex court on July 1 protected Setalvad from arrest and stayed for a week the high court order rejecting her plea for regular bail and asking her to surrender immediately in a case of alleged fabrication of evidence to frame innocent people in the post-Godhra riot cases.

During the late night hearing on July 1, the three-judge bench had questioned the denial of time to Setalvad to appeal against the high court's order, saying even an ordinary criminal is entitled to some form of interim relief. "In ordinary circumstances, we would not have considered such a request. However, it is to be noted that after the FIR was registered against the petitioner on June 25, 2022 and the petitioner was arrested.

"This court considering the application for grant of interim bail had granted the same on certain conditions, vide order dated September 2, 2022. One of the factors that weighed with this court was that the petitioner was a woman and as such entitled to special protection under Section 437 CrPC," the bench had noted in its order.

"We find that, taking into consideration this fact, the single judge ought to have granted at least some protection so that the petitioner has sufficient time to challenge the order passed by the single judge before this court," the top court had said.

"In that view of the matter, without considering anything on merits of the matter, finding that the single judge was not correct in granting even some protection, we grant a stay of the impugned order passed by the high court for a period of one week from today," it had said.

The three-judge bench had heard the matter in a special sitting on July 1 after a two-judge vacation bench on the same day had differed on granting interim protection from arrest to Setalvad.

Facing impending arrest, Setalvad promptly moved the apex court seeking protection from arrest but the two-judge vacation bench could not reach a consensus on granting her interim relief. The vacation bench of justices Abhay S Oka and Prashant Kumar Mishra had referred the matter to CJI D Y Chandrachud, who swiftly put together a bench of three judges to hear Setalvad's petition challenging the high court order at 9:15 PM on July 1.

Earlier on July 1, Justice Nirzar Desai of the Gujarat High Court had directed her to surrender immediately.

Setalvad was out of jail after having secured interim bail from the apex court in September last year.

The court had observed Setalvad made attempts to unsettle a democratically elected government and sully the image of the then chief minister and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and tried to send him to jail. Setalvad was arrested in June last year along with former Gujarat Director General of Police R B Sreekumar and ex-IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt in an offence registered by Ahmedabad crime branch police for allegedly fabricating evidence to frame innocent people in the post-Godhra riots cases.

In its judgment, the high court had observed that prima facie Setalvad used her close associates and riot victims to file "false and fabricated affidavits before the Supreme Court with a view to unseat the establishment and to tarnish the image of establishment and the then chief minister (Modi)"
(With PTI inputs)

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