Godhra riots | Tracing the case against Teesta Setalvad
The activist's petition to quash the FIR filed against her will be taken up by the Gujarat HC in October. An explainer on the case against her, and her defence
Teesta Setalvad, 61, a human rights activist and journalist from Mumbai, finds herself embroiled in a complex legal battle surrounding the fabrication of evidence in the 2002 Godhra riots. As the case unfolds, several questions arise about the evidence against her, the alleged conspiracy involving a now-deceased prominent Congress leader, and the impact of the proceedings on justice for victims of the riots.
On July 31, she moved the Gujarat high court to quash the FIR lodged against her in June 2022, for fabricating evidence pertaining to the riots. On September 18, Justice Sandeep N. Bhatt's bench rescheduled the matter for October 11 and noted that a lengthy hearing would not be necessary. In this explainer, we delve into the key aspects of the State’s case against Setalvad and the activist’s defence.
The complaint against Teesta and 2 policemen
The 2002 Godhra riots evidence fabrication case involves allegations that Setalvad fabricated documents and tutored witnesses to implicate senior officials of the Gujarat government, led by then chief minister Narendra Modi, in connection with the Godhra riots.
Setalvad is facing charges related to propagating a larger conspiracy behind the 2002 riots and allegedly attempting to frame Modi and others.
An FIR was lodged on June 25, 2022, against Setalvad along with former policemen R B Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt. The first information report was lodged after the Supreme Court dismissed Zakia Jafri’s petition, which alleged a larger conspiracy and challenged the clean chit given by the special investigating team (SIT) to Modi and others in the 2002 post-Godhra riots cases. Zakia’s husband Ehsan Jafri was killed on February 28, 2002, by a mob of Hindu rioters outside his home in Gulberg Society, even as he was sheltering several Muslims from rioters.
The riots followed an attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims in Godhra on February 27, 2002, that left 58 ‘kar sevaks’ dead. The ensuing riots that lasted for three days, left over 1000 people dead, according to official figures — most of them were Muslims.
The judgement that dismissed Zakia Jaffri’s petition, which alleged that there was a larger political conspiracy behind the deaths of her husband and others during the riots, stated that there was a need to proceed against those “disgruntled officers” and others whose “effort was to create a sensation by making false revelations”.
The very next day, based on a complaint filed by DB Barad, a police inspector who has been serving in the state police’s Crime Branch, Ahmedabad since 2019, an FIR against Setalvad and the two police officers was lodged. The complainant cited observations of the Supreme Court in its judgement delivered on June 24, 2022.
An offence against Bhatt, Sreekumar and Setalvad was registered under Sections 194 (giving or fabricating false evidence), 211 (false charge of offence made with intent to injure), 218 (public servant framing incorrect record), 468 (forgery, for the purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine, a forged document or electronic record) read with 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.
The ‘fabricated’ evidence
The state government formed an SIT headed by the state’s Anti-Terrorism Squad DIG (deputy inspector general of police) Deepan Bhadran to investigate the role of Setalvad and the two police officers who were accused of giving false testimonies, soon after their arrest.
The SIT affidavit filed in the court states that the larger conspiracy to tarnish Gujarat’s image was hatched “at the behest of Late Shri Ahmed Patel, then Member of Parliament from Rajya Sabha and political advisor of the president of the Indian National Congress”.
The affidavit alleges that Setalvad met Patel a few days after the Godhra train incident and received a total of ₹30 lakh. In the first instance, she received ₹5 lakh from one of the witnesses at the instructions of Patel.
Two days later, at a meeting held at the government Circuit House at Shahibaug in Ahmedabad between Patel and Setalvad, she was handed over ₹25 lakh more by the applicant at the behest of the senior Congress leader. The money was not for relief work and there were political leaders present at the two meetings, the SIT affidavit said.
On July 1, while opposing her plea for regular bail, the public prosecutor cited witness testimonies, including that of Rais Khan, Setalvad’s former close aide who fell out with her in 2008.
Khan’s statement described a meeting between Setalvad and Congress leader Patel at the circuit house in Ahmedabad.
During the meeting, Patel allegedly instructed Setalvad to ensure that certain individuals were punished and put behind bars, the SIT’s prosecutor told the court.
What are the other charges against her?
According to the prosecution, Setalvad initially targeted Vitthalbhai Pandya, the father of slain former Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya, but when he refused to level allegations against individuals unrelated to the riots, Setalvad shifted her focus to Zakia Jafri.
The applicant told Raees Khan to approach Qutubuddin Ansari — whose photograph with folded hands during the riots became the defining image of the riots — and convinced him to hold a press conference to speak out against Modi (then CM). The prosecution said Setalvad also got Ansari’s affidavit drafted and filed.
“The present case involves a journalist who embarked on her career but allegedly exploited victims and witnesses for her own benefit, eventually attaining prestigious positions and accolades, such as receiving the Padma Shri and becoming a member of the Planning Commission,” the prosecution said.
“It is alleged that Setalvad used the victims and their narratives to discredit the then Chief Minister, government machinery, and institutions. Moreover, by manipulating the sentiments of two wounded communities, Setalvad collected funds under the pretext of helping the victims but failed to fulfill her promises,” the prosecution stated.
Charges against Setalvad’s NGO
“The affidavit (by Raees Khan) throws light on the present applicant who was a journalist in the year 1992 and though was never into social services registered an NGO, Citizen for Justice and Peace, collected funds for unsettling the establishment and ultimately went on to become the member of the National Planning Commission,” it stated.
The SIT report also mentions the alleged misappropriation of funds for personal use according to an investigation carried out in connection to an FIR lodged in 2014 by Firoz Khan Pathan, a resident of the Gulberg Society.
Setalvad has been accused of collecting funds for the project with the promise of converting the society into the ‘Gulberg Society: Museum of Resistance.’
“However, it is alleged that no significant progress was made in the project, and the collected funds were allegedly misused for personal purposes, leading to accusations of cheating the riot-affected victims. About ₹63 lakh were collected for rehabilitation and the amount was received in two bank accounts between 2008 and 2011,” the SIT report stated.
“The allegations against Teesta Setalvad are not supported by evidence on record. Hence no trial is required to be conducted in the matter. In our quashing petition we have taken the ground that there is no offence made out against her,” said Somnath Vats, Setalvad’s advocate in the quashing petition before the Gujarat high court.
Latest update on the case
Following subsequent legal proceedings, the Supreme Court granted interim bail to Teesta Setalvad in September 2022. However, her regular bail plea was rejected by the Gujarat high court, leading to the issuance of an immediate arrest order. On July 19, the Supreme Court granted interim protection to Setalvad until further hearings, eventually ordering that she should remain on bail, setting aside the high court's directive.
A day later, the Ahmedabad sessions court rejected her discharge plea in the 2002 Godhra riots evidence fabrication case. This means that she now faces trial in the said case.
Teesta Setalvad’s quashing petition hearing will now take place in October.
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