The Supreme Court’s three-judge bench has disapproved High Court’s urgency in asking Teesta Setalvad to surrender immediately, ending an 11-hour drama in constitutional courts.
Setalvad, out on interim bail, is accused of fabricating evidence in connection with the 2002 Gujarat riots.
In a judgment running over 100 pages, a single-judge bench of the High Court refused her bail, rejecting her request for a 30-day suspension of the judgment to appeal in the Supreme Court.
A two-judge bench was split on granting her interim relief, prompting CJI DY Chandrachud to constitute a three-judge bench comprising Justices BR Gavai, AS Bopanna and Dipankar Datta.
The SC, on hearing Setalvad’s counsel CU Singh and solicitor general Tushar Mehta, stayed the HC Order.
“What is the urgency in taking her into custody? Will the skies fall if interim protection is granted for some days? We are taken by surprise by what the High Court has done. What is the alarming urgency?” SC noted.
“One of the factors that weighed with this court was that the petitioner was a lady and as such entitled to special protection under Section 437 CrPC… We find that, taking into consideration this fact, the learned single judge ought to have granted at least some protection so that the petitioner has sufficient time to challenge the order… before this court,” it said.
“Without considering anything on merits of the matter, finding that the learned single judge was not correct in (not) granting even some protection, we grant stay of the impugned order passed by the high court for a period of one week from today,” the SC said, adding that the HC was totally wrong in not giving the petitioner, in this case a woman, even a week’s protection.
“Even common criminals are granted interim relief,” Justice Gavai, countering the solicitor-general’s argument about preferential treatment, was quoted as saying by Livelaw.
When Mehta recounted the way Setalvad attempted to malign the state and the country in a motivated manner, Justice Datta said, “Her conduct may be reprehensible. But can liberty, which she enjoyed for 10 months, not be extended for a few days?”
Earlier, the Gujarat HC observed that granting her bail would “deepen and widen communal polarisation”, especially at a time when “we are heading towards progress of the country with an effort to strengthen communal harmony and brotherhood”.
The court of Justice Nirzar Desai accused Setalvad of filing false affidavits to unsettle a democratically elected government and tarnishing the reputation of the then chief minister Narendra Modi. Further, the court said her plan was to send him to jail and compel him to resign.
Directing Setalvad to surrender immediately, the HC rejected her lawyer’s request to stay the operation of the verdict for a month.