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Supreme Court grants interim bail to Teesta Setalvad after 2 urgent Saturday night hearings, stays High Court order to surrender for a week

The larger 3-judge bench was formed minutes after a 2-judge bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Prashant Kumar Mishra failed to arrive at a consensus on the appeal challenging the Gujarat High Court order refusing regular bail.

In a dramatic late-night hearing today, a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court granted interim bail to controversial activist Teesta Setalvad. Teesta Setalvad got one week of interim bail by this order, as the court stayed the Gujarat Hich Court order to surrender immediately by a week.

A bench of Justices BR Gavai, AS Bopanna and Dipankar Datta was hearing the case. The larger 3-judge bench was formed minutes after a 2-judge bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Prashant Kumar Mishra failed to arrive at a consensus on the appeal challenging the Gujarat High Court order refusing regular bail. The two-judge bench had asked the CJI to form a larger bench today evening, and accordingly, the larger bench was immediately formed and the hearing was scheduled for 9.15 PM today.

Senior Advocate CU Singh and Advocate Aparna Bhat appeared for Teesta Setalvad. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for the government. Senior Adv CU Singh was also present.

Granting the bail, the bench said, “We are not going into the merits of the matter. We are only concerned with that part of the order which rejected the petitioner’s request for a stay. In ordinary circumstances, we would not have interfered. After the petitioner was arrested, this Court considered her request for interim bail…One of the factors which weighed with this Court in granting interim bail was that the petitioner was a lady and was entitled to special protection under S.437 CrPC. Taking into consideration this fact, the learned single judge ought to have granted some time…We stay the order of the single bench for a period of one week.”

Presenting the September 2022 order of the Supreme Court by then CJI UU Lalit granting interim bail to Setalvad as required by the bench, advocate CU Singh started his argument. He said, “The Sessions had been directed to issue directions apart from surrendering passport and to apply till the High Court disposes of regular bail. The conditions were not to interfere with the case essentials etc. I have never been called for single interrogation since not violated any interim bail condition. Once the chargesheet was filed in September the matter then went to the sessions court for trial. I have attended every date. Charges are not yet framed. Absolutely no case at all of any conditions of bail. 10 months have gone by since interim bail. Only 2 of 7 sections mentioned in the chargesheet are non-bailable which is only in sections 194 and 498.”

Intervening the arguments by advocate CU Singh, the bench said, “We are only today concerned by interim protection. When was the impugned order passed?”

In response to this, Singh contended, “High Court rejected interim stay for 30 days without any reason. Now on merits I only want to say to this extent, on June 24 2022 lordships delivered the judgment in the Zakia case. The SIT report was accepted. The report said it was keeping the pot on the boil and action should be taken. The next day Anti Terror Squad comes to Mumbai to pick up Setalvad”

The Supreme Court then asked the Solicitor General to present his case. SG Tushar Mehta argued, “I would expect my lordships to do the same thing that it would do when an ordinary citizen challenges rejection of bail.”

To this, Justice Gavai asked, “What is the urgency that a person should not be granted 7 days time to challenge the bail when she was out for so long? We fail to understand the reasons. Skies will not fall. What is the alarming urgency? We will hear you.”

SG Mehta continued, “Skies never fall. SC order was interim order. Let me persuade you. There is something more that meets the eye, it is not a Question of one individual, person is abusing and misusing every forum. Here I say it is a question of rule of law, not personal interest. Here she is an ordinary criminal and cannot be subject to special …but I will not go there. Ordinary criminals surrender and then apply. Rule of law at stake. She started a designed false campaign against everyone, she took the opportunity and comes with false affidavits.”

SG Tushar Mehta further contended, “SIT constituted by lordships filed periodical reports. Now what happens, it receives witnesses with signed statements. IO flags this, they say they do not know anything but were given it by the petitioner Teesta Setalvad. On merits in a 300-page order, her contentions are rejected by High Court also. Petitioner started collecting money. The entire State was maligned. Entire machinery. Not a question of one individual.” The solicitor general presented the order copy to the court.

Supreme Court asked in response to this, “Whether heavens will fall in 7 days?” Replying to this SG Tushar Mehta said that heavens never fall. Justice Datta opined that if keeping her behind bars was the intention, the earlier bench would not give interim bail. Justice Gavai noted, “We are only on whether the single judge was right on not giving interim stay.”

Justice Datta observed, “With the judgment coming on a Saturday when it comes to loss of liberty. Two judges also had a difference of opinion.” To this, SG Tushar Mehta said, “What can I do?” Replying to this, Justice Datta said, “Not the point. You have to be in favour of liberty.”

Justice Gavai in his next remarks said, “We find that learned single judge was totally wrong in not giving interim stay … When she was out for 7 months.” Overruling SG Mehta’s argument that Teesta Setalvad has done something shocking, Justice Bopanna continued, “We are ready to pass orders saying Good Morning also.”

Justice Gavai further reminded that SG Mehta is representing a mighty state. Responding to this, SG Mehta underlined that Teesta Setalvad took institutions for a joy ride and wrote letters to Geneva maligning the very state justice was referring to. Justice Datta however said that the conduct of Teesta Setalvad may be reprehensible but she cannot be denied interim liberty even for a day.

Justice Gavai pronounced the order saying, “A 3-judge bench of this Court thought it fit to grant her interim bail. What harm if granted for 8 more days? We will post before the regular bench and will grant her interim bail till then. We are staying High Court order.”

The bench said in its order, “We are not going into the merits of the matter. We are only concerned with that part of the order which rejected the petitioner’s request for a stay. In ordinary circumstances, we would not have interfered. After the petitioner was arrested, this Court considered her request for interim bail vide order dated 2nd September 2022”

The bench further said in its order, “One of the factors which weighed with this Court in granting interim bail was that the petitioner was a lady and was entitled to special protection under section 437 of CrPC. Taking into consideration this fact, the learned single judge ought to have granted some time …we stay the order of the single bench for a period of one week.”

The larger 3-judge bench was formed after a 2-judge bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Prashant Kumar Mishra failed to arrive at a consensus on the appeal challenging the Gujarat High Court order refusing regular bail. The High Court had also asked her to surrender before the police immediately, but she approached the apex court instead.

The 2-judge bench had denied interim relief and referred the matter to CJI DY Chandrachud to form a larger bench. In its order, the two-judge bench had said, “There is a disagreement between us on the question of grant of bail. So we request the Chief Justice to assign this matter to a larger bench.”

Following this, in a surprise move, the 3-judge bench was formed within minutes, and the hearing was scheduled at 9.15 PM.

The bench primarily addressed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) filed by Setalvad, which challenged the Gujarat High Court’s today’s decision to reject her regular bail application. The High Court had accused her, based on an FIR filed by the state police, of forging documents to falsely implicate high-ranking government officials in connection with the 2002 Gujarat riots. Furthermore, the High Court ordered her to surrender without any delay.

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