26, Jun 2018 | CJP Team
Human rights defenders Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand have filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court asking that the FIR lodged against them by Gujarat Crime Branch, in a project titled KHOJ, be quashed. As an alternative they are seeking an order or direction for the transfer of the said case to Mumbai as the “cause of action as alleged in the offence registered I/20/2018 with DCB police station, Ahmedabad city, Gujarat has occurred within the local jurisdiction of Juhu Police Station, Mumbai.”
Ongoing case in Gujarat High Court
The matter 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. Right now the hearing on this false case is going on in Gujarat High Court and the next date is July 5. After the hearing on June 12, 2018, their lawyer Mihir Thakore had told the Gujarat HC that the FIR registered against them was “completely false”. Moreover, he had also questioned the issue of jurisdiction and had 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. The Supreme Court had granted them anticipatory bail in April.
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.
Setalvad and Anand believe, and rightly so, that the Gujarat police have no jurisdiction to enquire and investigate the said offence and that they ought to have transferred the case to the Maharashtra police or Delhi police as the cause of action has never arisen in the State of Gujarat.
The couple have submitted in their quashing petition that the Investigating Officer (IO) has deliberately given the address of the Field Office of CJP in a “labored attempt to somehow connect the alleged offences with the state of Gujarat.”
The entire petition may be viewed here:
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.
Grounds for current petition
The grants/aid for the KHOJ project undertaken by Sabrang Trust was released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). Anand and Setalvad are the founder member and secretary respectively. The ‘KHOJ’ project for which the grants/aid were being released was restricted to the territorial jurisdiction of the State of Maharashtra only. The beneficiaries of the project ‘KHOJ’ were as many as 6000 students in 75 schools, which would include the 2000 students in 33 schools across Maharashtra where KHOJ classes were already being conducted.
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.
In all an amount 1,42,23,797 (including bank interest) was available for the project ‘KHOJ’ and the Petitioners through their Sabrang Trust utilized and amount of Rs. Rs. 1,36,31,686/- only and the remainder amount of Rs.5,91,871/- was returned to the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
Harassment as a deterrent in Human Rights work
The couple’s apprehension is that the Crime Branch will not conduct a fair investigation and that they will be subjected to constant harassment and humiliation at the hands of the IO. This was evident from the conduct of the IOs in the present case. The FIR on them was lodged in a haphazard manner on March 30, 2018 late night (10 pm) and the same was sent to the court by 10.15 pm. Usually such promptness by the police has been observed when it comes to harass rights activists who work for the people and are impediments to corrupt nexuses. The couple were completely taken by surprise when the notice was sent to them the very next day at around 11 am, asking them to be present on April 1, 2018 for recording their statements.
In the petition, they reiterated the fact that the HRD Ministry supported KHOJ project had nothing to do with schools or any other activity in Gujarat and that the field office of CJP in Ahmedabad, Gujarat had nothing to do with schools or any other activity in Gujarat. They submitted that the field office for CJP had nothing whatsoever to do with the project and not a rupee of the grant received from HRD Ministry was spent on the field office or the staff there.
They have submitted that the only possible purpose behind the IOs false naming of CJP’s Ahmedabad office as the scene of offence is to claim it had jurisdiction in not only filing the FIR but also proceeding with its politically motivated investigation.
Quoting the 2000 judgement of the Supreme Court, in the matter of Navin Chandra N. Majethia versus State of Maharashtra & other [(2000) 7 Supreme Court Cases 640] the petition mentions that the Supreme Court transferred the investigation conducted by the police from Shillong to Mumbai though the FIR was registered there. This was because the cause of action constituting the offence had occurred in Mumbai and none of it had taken place in Shillong.
Both the petitioners also submitted that the Crime Branch is investigating the said offence with malice and with an intention to cause harassment and humiliation to the petitioners with an intention to cause harassment and humiliation to them. They also submitted that the act of the — (respondent no 1) is without the sanction of law and is in contravention of the provisions of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). They called the allegations made by the First Informant a “figment of his imaginations and outcome of his imagination, speculation and conjecture.”
Politically motivated move
The entire procedure of filing the FIR and the investigation is believed to be nothing but a feeble attempt to deter the petitioners (Setalvad and Anand) from continuing from fighting for upholding the constitutional rights of the victims and survivors of communal and sectarian violence.
Both Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand are pioneers in their own fields. While Javed Anand was awarded with the ‘Knight of the Order of Merit’ by the then French President in the year 2005 and in 2007. He was awarded with Minorities Rights Award by the National Minorities Commission and has been conferred many other awards for his writing and his work on communal harmony. Setalvad was awarded with a ‘Padma Shri’ in 2007 for her contribution in the field of Public Affiars. She is an award winning journalist and educationist and human rights activist. Through her illustrious career, she worked at various reputed media houses namely The Daily, The Indian Express, The Business India etc. Since August 1993, she was the editor of the popular magazine ‘Communalism Combat’, a unique publication initiative to promote values of peace, secularism and justice.