01, Mar 2015 | Nandini Oza
By Nandini Oza
Story Dated: Saturday, February 21, 2015 14:41 hrs IST
Activists flay the Gujarat government for trying to arrest Teesta Setalvad
On February 19, the Supreme Court directed the Gujarat Police not to arrest activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband, Javed Anand, in a case of alleged embezzlement of funds for building a museum at the Gulbarg Society in Ahmedabad. The court order foiled yet another attempt by the Gujarat government to put the couple behind bars.
Setalvad and her husband, through their NGOs Sabrang Trust and Citizens of Justice and Peace, had for long been involved in legal battles to bring the perpetrators of the 2002 post-Godhra riots to justice. The embezzlement case is the latest in a string of cases filed by the government against Setalvad.
It involves Gulbarg Society, where 69 persons, including former MP Ehsan Jafri, were killed in the 2002 riots. In 2007, Setalvad and Anand told members of the society that they wanted to raise funds to buy all houses at a fair price and build the Museum of Resistance, a memorial for riot victims. The following year, the society accepted the proposal and the Sabrang Trust started raising funds.
In four years, the trust managed to collect only Rs4 lakh, just a fraction of the required amount to buy the houses. Setalvad told the society that the plan to build the memorial had been dropped and that the money would be used to provide legal aid for riot victims. The society then told members that they could sell houses on their own.
Last year, the police filed an FIR against Setalvad and Anand on a complaint filed by some residents of the society, who alleged that the couple had used the fund for the memorial to buy branded clothes, liquor and air tickets. According to the FIR, the trust had collected more than Rs8 crore for the memorial. Even though Setalvad and Anand were questioned several times, the police said they were not cooperative and sought to interrogate the couple in custody. On February 12, the Gujarat High Court rejected the couple’s application for anticipatory bail.
But, relief came just in time. The following day, the Supreme Court ordered an interim stay on their arrest. On February 19, another bench of the court extended the stay and asked them to produce relevant documents before the police.
There are allegations that Setalvad’s NGOs have not had their accounts audited for years. Rais Khan Pathan, a former associate of Setalvad, said he had an argument with her over selling houses at the Gulbarg Society. He told THE WEEK that a person had offered to buy 16 houses for Rs1.86 crore in December 2007. According to Pathan, Setalvad had then assured residents that her NGO would buy the property and compensate them adequately. “I had told Setalvad that the victims should be adequately compensated,” he said. Sources close to Setalvad, however, say Pathan was removed from the trust as he was found misusing funds.
Setalvad maintains that the embezzlement charges are baseless and that documents relating to the case have already been given to the police. Father Cedric Prakash, a colleague of Setalvad’s, said it was obvious that the interrogation had gone beyond the FIR in the alleged embezzlement case. “The police are looking at everything else but the Gulbarg Society FIR. Not that there is anything in it,” he said.
Activists across the country have taken up the cudgels on Setalvad’s behalf, saying the government was “hounding” her. According to sources in the know, Setalvad’s bail plea was referred to another bench of the Supreme Court because Narendra Modi had allegedly attended a function hosted by one of the judges of the previous bench.
Even as supporters rally behind Setalvad in public, the charges against her have raised eyebrows. “When you are in a glass house, how could you afford not to keep the records proper?” asked an activist, referring to the delayed audits of her NGOs.
***This Article was originally published by Manorama. It can be found here.