SC urged to drop para cited to arrest activist Teesta Setalvad
A group of retired civil servants has issued a statement urging the Supreme Court to review its Zakia Jafri verdict and withdraw a paragraph that Gujarat police have cited to arrest social activist Teesta Setalvad and former IPS officer R.B. Sreekumar.
The apex court had dismissed Zakia’s plea challenging a special investigation team’s clean chit to then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi over the 2002 riots, and said those who “kept the pot boiling” should be put “in the dock”.
“Has the Supreme Court now decided that appellants before it and their counsel should be proceeded against merely for being assiduous and persistent in their appeal?” the 92 signatories from the Constitutional Conduct Group said, asking the court to order Setalvad’s “unconditional release”.
“What about the NHRC reports and the report of amicus curiae, Raju Ramachandran, which had stated that investigation was required to probe the role of then chief minister Narendra Modi? These were weighty grounds to question the view taken by the SIT and, therefore, they would confer sufficient heft to a petition that sought to challenge the SIT’s findings.
“Moreover, the Supreme Court’s own earlier observations clearly mention the laxity of the state government officials.”
In 2004, an apex court bench had accused Gujarat’s leaders of acting like “modern-day Neros” during the riots of 2002.
Among the signatories to the statement are former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, former Union finance secretary Sunil Mitra, former Union home secretary G.K. Pillai, former foreign secretary Sujatha Singh, several former chief secretaries and retired state police chiefs.
“The court has come out with a doctrine which enjoins the State to arrest and prosecute persons who dare to question the findings of investigating agencies, if the court decides that these findings are beyond reproach…. The directions contained in the order of the court have been characterised in words never known to have been used before in the case of judgments delivered by the Supreme Court,” the statement says.
“The immediate action of the State in arresting human rights lawyer Teesta Setalvad and former DGP, R.B. Sreekumar, as well as filing a fresh case against Sanjiv Bhatt, who is already in prison, clearly occurred because the Supreme Court told the state government authorities to put those who ‘kept the pot boiling’ ‘in the dock’, though these persons were neither the appellants nor the accused in the case.”
Setalvad has been a critic of the Modi government’s handling of the riots and their aftermath. Then IPS officers Sreekumar and Bhatt had accused Modi of allowing the violence.
“Here are some fundamental questions: Can the constitutional right to approach courts be treated in so cavalier and revengeful a fashion that the persons seeking justice are put behind bars?” the statement said.
“Shall we henceforth presume that natural justice can be given the go-by as a cardinal principle of our jurisprudence and people condemned without being heard?
“We would urge the Supreme Court Justices to suo motu review their order and withdraw the observations contained in Para 88. We would also request them to adopt the course of action advocated by a distinguished former member of their fraternity, (retired Supreme Court judge) Justice Madan Lokur.
“He has said that the court would do well to issue a clarification to the effect that it was not their intention that Teesta Setalvad should face arrest and at the same time order her unconditional release.
“Every day of silence lowers the prestige of the court and raises questions about its determination to uphold a core precept of the Constitution: safeguarding the basic right to life and liberty against questionable actions of the state.”
Para 88 of the verdict says: “At the end of the day, it appears to us that a coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the State of Gujarat alongwith others was to create sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge…. As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law.”
The crime branch, Ahmedabad, cited this in its FIR against Setalvad, Sreekumar and Bhatt.
The signatories to the statement include retired members of the IAS, IFS, IPS, Indian Forest Service, Indian Revenue Service, Indian Audit and Accounts Service, Indian Postal Service, and the Research and Analysis Service.