The Supreme Court today reserved its order on pleas by activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband in a case lodged against them for alleged misappropriation of funds received by her NGOs for Gujarat riots victims of 2002. During arguments, the Gujarat government and Setalvad traded charges against each other with the state accusing her of “siphoning” the money collected in the name of victims for “personal use” like wining and dining and the activist claiming that the action against her was “completely malafide”. The hearing before a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and A M Khanwilkar began with Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing Gujarat, alleging that as per the records, Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand had spent the money received in the name of victims in “liquor, movies, food, personal items, Blackberry phones”. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Setalvad and others, countered the charges and said the money which she had spent does not belong to the government and there was no complainant who had said he or she has been cheated. He said the donation was given by Ford Foundation and others and when they had not come forward with any complaint, why did the police freeze the accounts of Setalvad, her husband and their NGOs, Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace.
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“What is that offence that they (police) suspect I have committed and on what grounds have they frozen all these accounts for the past three-and-a-half-year when no donor has complained. They are doing it to malign me. This is completely malafide,” he said. Sibal said that as per records, only Rs 7,870 was spent on liquor in seven years and the police was projecting it as if a “gigantic amount” had been spent. “If they (Setalvad and Anand) had a meeting with some persons in a restaurant and somebody orders a drink for which they pay, is it an offence? These are very serious allegations,” he said. Mehta, however, said the money was collected in the name of the victims to convert the Gulbarg Society into a museum and the investigation in the case was going on. “I will not be able to share several things with the other side as we are in the midst of investigation. The complaint is categorical that these people created accounts and diverted funds,” he alleged, adding “no person who claims to be a social activist will spend money like this”.
He also placed some vouchers before the court to buttress his claim that money meant for “secular education and legal aid” of victims was spent on personal items by her. Sibal told the bench that a total of Rs nine crore was received as donation by Setalvad and her NGOs in 11 years and they can explain each and every voucher which has been placed by the police in the court. “We have supplied them (police) 20,000 documents. They are investigating it for three-and-a-half-years. Where is the charge sheet? These are donations. How are they concerned with it? They are doing it to pressurise me. They cannot paralyse a person who is receiving genuine money,” he argued. The bench, which reserved its verdict, asked both the parties to file written submissions. The apex court was hearing the pleas by Setalvad, Anand and their two NGOs challenging the October 7, 2015 verdict of Gujarat High Court rejecting their pleas for defreezing of their personal bank accounts.
The apex court had in February questioned the source of money in the bank accounts of Setalvad and others which were frozen by the Ahmedabad police in 2015 after the allegations of misappropriation had surfaced. One of the residents of Gulberg society, Firoz Khan Pathan, had filed a complaint against Setalvad and others alleging that money was raised to make a museum at Gulberg Society in the memory of 69 people killed in the 2002 Gujarat riots, but it had not been utilised for the purpose. The freezing of the accounts by Ahmedabad Police had come soon after its crime branch had started probing a case in which Setalvad and others were accused of embezzling Rs 1.51 crore collected to convert Gulbarg Society into a museum. The high court had upheld the verdict of a lower court in this regard observing that the probe was at a serious point in the alleged case of Gulbarg society fund embezzlement. In the embezzlement case lodged by the Gujarat Police, the couple had challenged the cancellation of bail in the apex court, while in the alleged FCRA violation case, CBI has challenged the anticipatory bail granted to them by the Bombay High Court. Both matters are pending before the apex court.