Raising serious concerns about the way activist Teesta Setalvad has been kept in custody in Gujarat for more than two months, the Supreme Court today questioned how the Gujarat High Court issued notice asking for a reply after six weeks.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India UU Lalit also observed that there is “no offence in this case over which bail cannot be granted”, that too to a woman. Ms Setalvad has been in jail for more than two months and yet no chargesheet has been filed, the judges said.
Stating that the FIR filed against the petitioner does not say much apart from the observations made by the Supreme Court, the bench said the Gujarat High Court, while issuing notice on Ms Setalvad’s bail plea on August 3, granted a long adjournment.
The bench, which included Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia, raised several questions related to Ms Setalvad’s custodial detention.
“She is a lady. How did the high court issue notice returnable after six weeks? Is that the standard practice in Gujarat High Court? And give us instances where a lady is involved in a case like this and the High Court has made it [notice on bail plea] returnable by six weeks,” said the Chief Justice.
Teesta Setalvad has been in custody since June 25 over allegations that she faked documents to file cases related to the 2002 Gujarat riots.
“There is no offence in this case that comes with a rider that bail cannot be granted, like Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Prevention of Terrorism Act. These are normal offences and a lady is entitled to favourable treatment,” the Chief Justice said.
The Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, sought an adjournment to today’s hearing. “All these arguments should be made in the High Court and not in the Supreme Court. That’s my preliminary objection,” Mr Mehta said.
Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, the counsel for Ms Setalvad, said: “I am challenging the FIR. There cannot be an FIR here. The FIR doesn’t disclose what’s the document I forged.”
Ms Setalvad was arrested in Mumbai by Gujarat Police’s Anti Terror Squad, a day after the Supreme Court dismissed her client Zakia Jafri’s petition that challenged the Special Investigation Team clearing Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, of any wrongdoing in the alleged larger conspiracy involving the Gujarat riots.
The court will take up Ms Setalvad’s bail plea again tomorrow at 2 pm.