The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday granted regular bail to activist Teesta Setalvad in a case of alleged fabrication of evidence in relation to the 2002 Gujarat riots, reported LiveLaw.
The court, in its observations, noted that the charge sheet had been filed against Setalvad, eliminating the necessity for custodial interrogation. However, the top court directed Setalvad not to influence witnesses in the ongoing case.
During the hearing, Justice BR Gavai questioned the motives and timing of Setalvad's arrest, asking: "What were you doing till 2022? What investigation have you done from June 24 and June 25 that you decided she has done something so heinous as to warrant her arrest?"
Justice Gavai also pointed out that if the authorities' contentions were to be accepted, the definition of Evidence Act would be rendered obsolete.
"Definition of Evidence Act would have to be thrown in the dustbin if your contention has to be accepted. We're only putting you on guard that if you delve more into it, we will have to make observations..." the court said.
Justice Dipankar Datta also echoed the sentiment, criticising the idea of keeping someone in custody until a verdict is issued.
"Initially, we were feeling that there was a case under [Section] 194. Now we think the case under Section 194 is suspect. And you want someone to be undertrial and in custody, till verdict is pronounced," he said.
Setalvad was arrested in June 2022, along with former Gujarat police chief RB Sreekumar and former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, for allegedly using her close associates and riot victims to file "false and fabricated affidavits before the Supreme Court with a view to unseat the establishment and to tarnish the image of the establishment and the then chief minister."
The Supreme Court extended Setalvad's interim bail on July 5, pending the next hearing on Wednesday. This decision was made in response to Setalvad's petition challenging the Gujarat High Court order, which instructed her to surrender. Her request for regular bail was previously denied by the high court.
The Supreme Court has protected Setalvad from arrest since July 1, putting the high court order on hold. The court granted the stay without commenting on the merits of the case. However, it emphasised that the single judge was not correct in refusing Setalvad any form of protection.
Setalvad was arrested just two days after the court denied a plea by her and Zakia Jafri, whose husband, former MP Ehsan Jafri, was killed in the riots. They had challenged a probe that cleared Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister at the time of the riots, of any wrongdoing.
Setalvad, a vocal critic of the previous Gujarat administration, was released from jail in September last year after the top court granted her interim bail.