14, Jun 2018 | CJP Team
Once again, the brave fighter of human rights of the marginalized and downtrodden, our Secretary Teesta Setalvad stands firm as her Anticipatory Bail Application (ABA) is being heard in the Gujarat High Court along with that of her colleague and husband, Javed Anand. Despite continued tactics of the Central and Gujarat state governments to incarcerate her so that she can be subjected to custodial interrogation, and in all likelihood torture, they present their case with calm, co-operating fully with the investigative and judicial processes. Here is a brief account of what has transpired thus far.
The matter being heard in the Gujarat High Court on June 12 and 13 (and now adjourned to June 15), 2018 pertains to a false case against Setalvad, where it is alleged that she used fraudulent means to obtain funds for the education NGO KHOJ under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and then misappropriated them. After the hearing on June 12, 2018, their lawyer Mihir Thakore told the Gujarat HC that the FIR registered against them was “completely false”. Besides, he questioned the issue of jurisdiction and said that the FIR should not have been lodged in Gujarat as the matter pertains to funds that were meant to be used in Maharashtra only for the purpose of education under the Human Resource and Development (HRD) Ministry’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Point by point, all the spurious arguments of the Crime branch have been answered by the advocates for the human rights defenders.
CJP and Sabrang are appalled at the fact that despite the facts being laid down in meticulous detail to answer all allegations, significant sections of the print and electronic media selectively only report one side of the story, in large bold headlines, furthering the agenda of a vindictive regime in vilifying the human rights defenders and their organisations.
As a vindictive state and administration attempts to silence us, we appeal to you to support us. Your donations will help us continue our struggle for justice against impunity, in the courts and beyond. With your support, we will appeal the Naroda Patiya judgement, carry the Zakia Jafri case forward, fight in the courts against the false cases against Adivasi forest dwellers claiming land and protesting it being snatched away. We seek your support in helping CJP build a campaign and legal strategy to avert the humanitarian crisis brewing in Assam.
The ABA Petition (Miscellaneous Criminal Application) Filed in the Gujarat High Court may be read here:
The affidavit by Javed Anand also filed in the Gujarat High Court may be read here:
Our official statement detailing the case can be read here.
What is perhaps most absurd is how the Gujarat Police has opposed the anticipatory bail plea stating Setalvad might tamper with evidence. The KHOJ project began in 2010 and was over well before January 2014 when the bank accounts were frozen due to another fake case based on false allegations. The only evidence of alleged embezzlement is in these bank accounts. If the accounts in question are frozen, how exactly can Setalvad tamper with evidence? This is merely a desperate ploy to place Setalvad and Anand in police custody. Normally custodial interrogation is not required in cases like these. Therefore, there is a very real possibility of the misuse of this custody to use coercive tactics like torture and intimidation.
A brief background of the case
The KHOJ case was filed by Rais Khan, a disgruntled former employee and stooge of a vindictive state. He has been used multiple times to file such fake cases in the past. He has gone forum shopping and filed over a dozen different cases against Setalvad and her team over the years for which he has also been handsomely rewarded by way of a nomination to the Central Waqf Council. Lawyers who have appeared for Khan include those who are on the rolls of the Gujarat state and government. In this case, too, Khan first tried to goad the CBI and MHRD into launching this witch-hunt but when that did not work, went to his preferred forum, the Crime Branch Ahmedabad. In the complaint filed by Rais Khan, he himself admits that though he was aware of the ‘wrong-doing’ in 2014, he waited four years for the complaint to be filed! This also reveals the deliberate malafides in the act. First in 2016 and then in 2018, Teesta Setalvad had, in a correspondence with central union minister, Prakash Javdekar, requested information of the HRD ministry was in any way investigating the matter, requested a copy of the complaint and a copy of the Bari Committee report. The Bari Committee was appointed by former HRD minister, Smriti Irani.
The two letters written to HRD minister, Prakash Javdekar may be read here:
Belief in justice, full cooperation with legal processes
In the additional affidavit submitted by Javed Anand, the applicants Javed Anand and Teesta Setalvad submitted to the Gujarat High Court (HC) that the Honorable High Court of Bombay had extended their Transit Bail applications until April 5, 2018. Further, they also submitted that the Honorable Supreme Court too, extended their Transit bail applications until April 9, 2018. In both the cases the grounds were that the matter in any case related to the documentary evidence of accounts and therefore the pressing for custodial interrogation wasn’t just unnecessary but also against the established principles of law and jurisprudence. The applicants, Anand and Setalvad also believe that in this case this was an invitation to “custodial torture given the animus against them”.
Anand also submitted that the modus operandi of the Crime Branch especially in matters involving clear political motivation is to repeatedly demand custodial interrogation and incarceration.
Believing fully in the judicial process, both Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand have co-operated completely with the investigations despite their contention that the FIR and investigation are malafide and malicious. They appeared before the Crime Branch on April 6, 2018. Afterwards, Javed Anand appeared before the investigating agency on May 11, 2018 and answered all questions posed to him. All the required documents were sent to the investigating agencies on time.
Even in their oral statements while appearing before the investigating team of the Crime Branch on April 6, 2018, Teesta Setalavad and Javed Anand submitted that the HRD Ministry supported the KHOJ project and that it had nothing to do with schools or any other activity in Gujarat. They also submitted that the field office of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) in Ahmedabad had nothing to do with the project in question and that not a penny of the grant received from the HRD ministry was spent on the field office or the staff there. Voluminous documents as asked for by the Crime Branch were provided to them and form the records of the case.
No use of funds for personal expenses
Denying allegation of the use of grant amount for personal expenses, Javed Anand submitted, “I categorically and firmly deny that the grant amount was used individually and not for the purposes made in the grant. This allegation is mischievous and made with an intent to malign and frame the applicants. This is not the first time that the Crime Branch of the Gujarat police is conspiring to make such false allegations that are not borne out by facts or documents on record including bank statements etc.”
Setalvad and Anand added that the three instalments of the grant amounts viz. Rs. 58,72,500, Rs. 26,66,570 and Rs. 54,20,848 were, in fact, were deposited in the existing Sabrang Trust account.
The terms and conditions of the HRD Ministry required that a separate account be opened for the Ministry’s grant. To this end, an account with the name Sabrang Trust-HRD was opened with the bank branch of Union Bank of Indian, Juhu Tara Road. The entire amount received was transferred from the Sabrang Trust to the Sabrang Trust-HRD account. Setalvad and Anand clarified that all payments related to the KHOJ project ONLY were made from the Sabrang Trust-HRD accounts. An un-utilised amount of approximately Rs 5,91,000 was also returned to the ministry by demand draft after the completion of the project in June 2014.
The applicants, Javed Anand and Teesta Setalavad, have, to buttress their arguments, submitted the monthly bank statements of the Sabrang Trust for months February 2011, July 2012 and July 2013 (months in which the grant was received from the HRD Ministry) indicating that all the funds were promptly transferred to the Sabrang Trust HRD account.
A monthly honorarium as per HRD provisions
In their application, Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand denied all allegations about grant amounts being transferred to their personal accounts as “baseless and not supported by documentary evidence” They indicated that they were paid a monthly honorarium as per the budgetary provision approved by the HRD Ministry and in accordance with the the resolutions of the the Sabrang Trust trustees. They added that they received the honorarium amounts not by virtue of their being trustees but in lieu of the executive responsibilities entrusted to them by the Trustees to act as Project Director (Teesta Setalvad) and Project Administrator (Javed Anand) of the KHOJ project. Other than this, they were reimbursed for expenses incurred by them on the activities of KHOJ.
Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand, while calling the constant harassment by Crime Branch as malafide, highlighted how the Crime Branch was misleading the Courts by calling both of them habitual offenders when in fact they have been committed to the pursuit of justice for the weak and marginalized. Apart from the Gujarat police, the Crime Branch has also been deployed to ensure their constant harassment, witch-hunt and multiple rounds of the Courts.
Finally they also submitted that the Crime Branch, through an illegal order dated January 20, 2014 also got their personal accounts frozen on January 20, 2014. For the entire period relevant to allegations and questions, their accounts remained frozen, with all details of the accounts available with the investigating agency. There was nothing that Setalavad and Anand could do unless these were de-frozen. They questioned that why then, is the investigating agency still bent at harassing and intimidating them further?
Despite all odds, the human rights work continues
Setalvad and Anand, both office bearers of CJP, have been targeted multiple times since 2014. Setalvad has had to seek anticipatory bail to avoid custodial torture nine times! This has not stopped them from pursuing a passionate and rigorous human rights agenda. CJP will continue to provide legal aid to the survivors of the Gujarat 2002 massacre. In fact, CJP is also working with Adivasis and Forest workers in Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa to get false cases against them quashed.
Setalvad’s work as a journalist, academic and an educationist continues. Anand apart from being part of CJP is also a founding member of Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy. Both remain committed to the idea of a more equal, inclusive and peaceful India.
Lawyers of the human rights defenders (HRDs) have in their arguments for the case, sourced several judgements around the issue of anticipatory bail granted and not granted by both the Gujarat High Court and in general, the Supreme Court. As our commitment to provide legal resources for our readers we are providing them here.
Judgements on Anticipatory Bail granted by the Gujarat High Court may be read here.