Supreme Court gives Teesta Setalvad protection from arrest till May 31?

New Delhi—Activist Teesta Setalvad on Monday got temporary relief in a case of fund embezzlement, with the Supreme Court extending the interim protection from arrest and transit anticipatory bail from May 2 to May 31, granted to her and her husband by the Bombay high court.

The apex court, which granted them relief on the condition that they would have to move the competent court in Gujarat for anticipatory bail, was clear that the Bombay HC had no jurisdiction to entertain their plea as the FIR was registered by the Gujarat police.

“Since the FIR is in Gujarat, the competent court will be in Gujarat,” a bench comprising Justices Kurian Joseph, M M Shantanagoudar and Navin Sinha said.

The bench said Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand will not be arrested till May 31 but before that they would have to approach for the competent court in Gujarat which will decide the matter on merits.

“We direct the respondents (Setalvad and Javed Anand) to seek appropriate remedy from the competent court in Gujarat before May 31. The interim bail granted by Bombay high court shall extend till May 31,” the bench said.

The bench made it clear that it was confining the issue in the case only for dealing with the transit anticipatory bail granted by the Bombay high court and all other aspects of the order has to be vacated, as “the Bombay High Court has no jurisdiction on it”.

The Ahmedabad police had moved the apex court against the April 5 order of the Bombay HC by which the couple were protected from arrest till May 2 in an FIR registered on March 31 for allegedly securing central government funds worth Rs 1.4 crore “fraudulently” for her NGO Sabrang between 2010 and 2013.

Senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani and additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for Gujarat, said the Bombay high court had passed a blatantly illegal order and transit anticipatory bail should not have been granted.

Senior advocate CU Singh, appearing for Teesta and her husband, said the high court was right in granting transit bail as the alleged offence pertains to an educational project in Maharashtra. He said in this case, the HC had the jurisdiction to issue the transitory bail.

However, the bench observed it was a settled law that the jurisdiction lies with the concerned court of the state where the FIR is lodged and “the transit bail is granted for making a person to appear before the competent court”.

On the outset, Jethmalani, who said the order was illegal, made it clear that the Ahmedabad police was not against Setalvad’s travel abroad and also never intended to arrest her at this stage of the case.

The ASG, who also found error with the high court order, said transit bail has to be secured from the court in Gujarat and accused Setalvad of abusing the process of law.

The two advocates for Gujarat placed before the bench an earlier order of the apex court in a case pertaining to Setalvad in which it was held that competent forum for hearing any case is the court in the state where the FIR is lodged.

The bench agreed with their submission and directed Setalvad and her husband to raise all their grievances before the competent court in Gujarat.

The case of alleged misappropriation of funds was registered by the Ahmedabad Crime Branch on a complaint accusing Setalvad and Anand of “fraudulently” securing grants of Rs 1.4 crore from the union government through their NGO Sabrang Trust between 2008 and 2013.

As per the Gujarat police, the funds had been ostensibly obtained to help the victims of the 2002 post-Godhra Gujarat riots, but were misappropriated or used for other purposes.

The complaint was registered under sections 403 (dishonest misappropriation of property), 406 (criminal breach of trust) and 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant, or by banker, merchant or agent) of the Indian Penal Code.

The case was filed against Setalvad and Sabrang trustees by Ahmedabad Crime Branch on the basis of a complaint lodged by her former close associate Raees Khan Pathan, who has accused that the grant for educational purposes was allegedly misused and materials were printed and distributed that could cause communal disharmony.

Pathan had alleged that Setalvad and Sabrang Trust tried to “mix religion with politics” and were spreading disharmony through the curricular material prepared for the erstwhile UPA government which had given it a grant of about Rs 1.4 crore.

The complaint had taken into account the report of a panel of the Ministry of Human Resource Development which in its finding has claimed that a prima facie case existed against her under section 153A and 153B of the IPC for promoting enmity on grounds of religion and making imputations and assertions, prejudicial to the national integration.

Pathan had alleged that a large amount from the HRD funding was used during 2008-14 on ‘Khoj’ project of the Sabrang Trust under the scheme of ‘National Policy on Education’ in Maharashtra and Gujarat as well as on the ‘Peace Building and conflict resolution’ project. The project was launched by Setalvad’s NGO in some districts of Maharashtra and Gujarat.

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