‘Activist’ Teesta Setalvad is widely respected in liberal echo-chambers as a great humanitarian activist who has dedicated her life towards the welfare of marginalised communities. The truth, however, is far from it. She rose to national fame due to her involvement in the Gujarat Riots case and the dedicated campaign she ran against then Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Her infamy, ironically, derives from her conduct related to the same event. She is accused of siphoning off funds contributed for the welfare of those affected by the riots. Raees Khan, a former associated of Setalvad, had claimed that funds which were to be used for educational purposes were misused. He had registered a complaint with Ahmedabad crime branch in connection with the same.
Teesta Setalvad was also accused of fraudulently securing financial aid from the HRD Ministry when Kapil Sibal was the Minister during the UPA regime. She was accused of embezzlement of funds to the tune of Rs. 1.51 crores.
One of her trusts was also found to be in violation of the FCRA laws in the country. Sabrang Communication and Publishing Pvt Limited (SCPPL), with which Teesta is associated, recieved $ 2.9 lakh from Ford Foundation as grant to “address communalism, caste-based discrimination in India, including media strategies”. But unlike the Sabrang Trust, this company was not registered under FCRA and hence was a violation.
Subsequently, the CBI in 2015 had conducted searches at her residence and offices in connection with the case. Following the searches, the entire liberal echo-chamber was quick to come to the defense of the ‘activist’.
The Gujarat Police said that Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand had spent money collected for constructing a memorial for riot victims and their aid on personal expenses that included wine and liquor, expensive mobile phones, movie CDs, romantic novels, hair-styling, dining among other avenues. According to the police, the two committed “colossal fraud”.
The police said that the two had “misappropriated the funds of charity and converted to their own use funds meant for the rehabilitation and welfare of the unfortunate victims of riots in Gujarat in Feb-March 2002”. The investigation revealed that Setalvad had claimed reimbursement on the purchase of sanitary napkins and “surprisingly” her husband had claimed the same as well.
The investigation also revealed that 45% of the funds received by Sabrang Trust between 2008-13 were transferred to Setalvad and her husband either directly or through SCPPL. It also said that she drew a salary of Rs. 8.75 lakhs and flew 113 times in a year.
“The inescapable conclusion is that the entire amount paid by Sabrang Trust to SCPPL has been siphoned by petitioner under the guise of cash withdrawal and cheque payments. SCPPL is a vehicle used by the petitioners for the purpose of siphoning donations to the Sabrang Trust,” the affidavit filed in connection with the matter said.
“Limited documents furnished by the petitioners unambiguously disclose the patent fraud on their part and expose their protestations as being hollow,” it added. Among her many FCRA related issues, it was discovered that Rs 1 lakh was allegedly transferred to domestic account, which is considered as misutilisation of funds. Furthermore, 65% of the foreign funds were spent on administrative expenses, something that is not allowed as per law.
The activist and others were booked under Sections 13 (1)(D) and 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act as well as under Sections 120 B, 153 A, 153 B, 406, 409 and 420 of the IPC in 2018.
In an unrelated note, Rana Ayyub recently ended her Covid-19 fundraiser after potential illegalities were exposed in her campaign related to FCRA laws. Consequently, she decided to return the money received from foreign donors.