Supreme Court Grants Bail to Teesta Setalvad

The Supreme Court quashed the Gujarat High Court’s rejection of bail to Teesta Setalvad, calling its reasoning perverse.

On July 19th, 2023, the Supreme Court granted bail to activist Teesta Setalvad, who was accused of fabricating evidence in the 2002 Gujarat Riots. Justices B.R. Gavai, A.S. Bopanna and Dipankar Dutta were hearing an appeal against the Gujarat High Court’s refusal to grant bail. 

Gujarat High Court Imposed Bail Conditions that are ‘Perverse’ in Law

The Bench criticised the reasoning adopted by the Gujarat High Court when they rejected Setalvad’s bail plea on July 1st 2023. The Gujarat High Court had held that Setalvad did not make a compelling argument that prima facie or on the face of it, no offence could be made out against her. They reasoned that as Setalvad had not challenged the chargesheet in the High Court or the Supreme Court, it showed a lack of protest against the allegations. The Bench described this reasoning as ‘perverse’, as it would result in all bail applications being denied unless the accused approached a court to quash the charges. 

The Supreme Court reiterated that at this stage, only three considerations were to be made by a Court—whether on a first glance it is evident that a crime has been committed, whether there is a chance for the accused person to tamper with the evidence and violate the sanctity of the investigation, and whether they were a flight risk. They saw that the Gujarat High Court had gone beyond this scope, when they demanded proof of protest against the FIR. 

Inordinate Delays by the Investigating Mechanism

The Bench recalled its interim order from September 2022, and stated considerations then continued to apply to the current case. Most important considerations included the fact that the offence in question allegedly occurred in 2002, and documents that Setalvad allegedly forged were relied upon only until 2012. In addition to this, the investigative mechanisms had another seven days to interrogate Setalvad. Further, after her interim bail in September 2022, no investigative body summoned her for further questioning. Thus, there was no immediate need to keep Setalvad under custody for further interrogation. 

In response to the Union’s argument that Setalvad needs to be in custody for further investigations, Justice Gavai pointed out that the police had not interrogated Setalvad for a ‘single occasion’ since the Court had given its interim order. 

The Journey Here

Teesta Setalvad was the co-petitioner along with Zakia Jafri, who had challenged the clean chit granted to 63 accused persons in the 2002 Gujarat riots. The Supreme Court had upheld the clean chit on June 24, 2022. The Judgment stated that Setalvad was ‘keeping the pot boiling’ in this issue as part of an ‘ulterior design’ to implicate the 63 accused including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The very next day, an FIR was filed against Setalvad, the contents of which starkly resembled the Supreme Court’s scathing remarks against her. She was charged with ‘conjuring, concocting, forging and fabricating’ facts and documents to implicate the accused of the Gujarat Riots. She was arrested by a unit of the Gujarat Anti Terrorism Squad on June 25, 2022. 

Setalvad’s plea for bail was refused by the Gujarat High Court on July 30, 2022, prompting her to appeal to the Supreme Court. A 3-Judge Bench comprising Chief Justice U.U Lalit and Justice Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia heard the case and granted her interim bail in September 2022. They noted that ‘a lady has been in custody’ since June, and that the investigating machinery has ‘had the advantage of custodial interrogation for a period of seven days’. They continued hearing the appeal to the High Court’s bail rejection, which culminated in the order delivered today.