Published in India Resists on Feb. 12 ::
As the hearing in the anticipatory bail applications of Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand and three survivors of the Gulberg society massacre, Tanvir Jafri, Salim Sandhi and Firoz Gulzar Pathan comes up on July 9, 2014, IndiaResists.com recapitulates the case against the activists. A study of the affidavits and counter-affidavits shows a vindictive state gunning for activists.
For years on Teeta Setalvad and Javed Anand have been steadfastly working for justice for victims and survivors of the Gujarat riots of 2002. The efforts of their organization Citizens for Peace and Justice (CJP) and its lawyers has been instrumental in securing over a hundred convictions in riot-related cases since 2002. These include life sentences to former BJP MLA and minister in Narendra Modi cabinet Maya Kodnani and Gujarat’s Bajrang Dal leader, Babu Bajrangi for their role in the Naroda Patiya massacre. In total, as many as 120+ convictions of powerful perpetrators to life imprisonment have taken place due to the efforts of the CJP team.
One Feroz Saeedkhan Pathan, who used to live in Gulberg Society during 2002 riots sent a complaint to the the Crime Branch, Ahmedabad Police on behalf of the office bearers of the Gulberg Society in March 2013. He alleged that human rights defender and social activist Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand, son of slain Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, Tanvir Jafri, Gulbarg Society’s secretary, Feroz Gulzar; and its chairman Salim Sandh had indulged in breach of trust, cheating and criminal conspiracy in raising funds for a riot memorial museum in Gulberg Society, Ahmedabad.
According to him, the accused collected crores but instead of using it for the museum, used Rs 1.51 crores out of the collected donations, for their personal purpose between 2007 and 2011.
The veracity of the complaint became doubtful when it emerged that Pathan had forged the letterhead of the Gulberg Society to file the complaint.
CJP and Sabrang issued a public affidavit which showed that only Rs 4.6 lakhs was collected for the muesum. Of this, only Rs 50,000 was received under FCRA. The remaining donations were received from India. But as the land prices spiraled, the dream for a memorial was abandoned. The audited accounts and resolutions passed in the society proved as much. No money or property had ever changed hands.
Following this satisfactory explanation to the Crime Branch, the investigation was dropped.
Since January 2014
Between April and May 2013 the Zakia Jafri Protest Petition against Narendra Modi and 59 Others (including senior officials now serving in the Crime Branch Ahmedabad and Ahmedabad police) was filed and argued. The Magistrate rejected the Protest Petition on 26.12.2013. Eight days later, as the CJP prepared for filing the Appeal to the Magistrate’s Order in the Smt. Zakia Jafri protest petition, the complaint was revived and an FIR registered in January 2014, despite the fact that the complainant had forged the Gulberg Society letterhead, and despite the appalling lack of any evidence of foul play or fraud.
The accused moved first the Bombay High Court for transit bail and thereafter the SC for anticipatory bail application in February. However, the SC rejected the same but granted protection from arrest till March directing that the competent court of jurisdiction would lie in Gujarat. In March, the Ahmedabad city and sessions court rejected the anticipatory bail applications of Setalvad, Anand, Jafri and other accused, making their arrest by DCB imminent.
They immediately moved the Gujarat High Court seeking anticipatory bail as well as the quashing of the FIR. The High Court stayed the arrest till 4th April.
Since then, there have been several hearings in the matter. At each hearing the Gujarat State sought time for replying to the anticipatory bail applications, or has filed lengthy affidavits, renewing the allegations or adding new ones – but each time without a shred of evidence.
Allegations and the Truth:
Forced to respond to the vindictive allegations being made by the Gujarat state through the DCB, Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand have filed number of affidavits in the Sessions Court in Ahmedabad and Gujarat High Court pointing out the gaping holes in the prosecution case. On 18 June 2014, Setalvad and other accused filed a 96 page Counter affidavit complete with detailed records from audited accounts and bank statements completely disproving the renewed set of baseless allegations made by the Crime Branch, Ahmedabad. The response to the pointed queries that conclusively nails the lies of the Gujarat police and by implication unmasks its vile intent.
Allegation: It has been alleged that a total of around Rs. 2.62 crore was collected by Sabrang Trust between 10.4.2007 and 20.2.2014 for the museum.
The audited accounts clearly show that total foreign contribution received by Sabrang Trust is around Rs. 1.33 crore and not Rs. 2.62 as falsely claimed by the Crime Branch.
Of the total of Rs. 1.33 crore received over the relevant period, Rs. 1.21 crore were transferred from the trust’s savings a/c to term deposits in the same bank from time to time with a view to earning extra interest income for the trust. On maturity the same deposits along with interest around Rs. 1.26 crore were credited back into the savings account. In its wisdom, or malafide intent, the crime branch has chosen to treat this Rs. 1.26 crore as fresh income!
It has been alleged that Teesta Setalvad got over Rs. 21.6 lakh from Sabrang Trust between 1.10.2009 and 30.6.2013. Similarly, it has been alleged that Javed Anand received over Rs. 20 lakh from Sabrang Trust during the same period.
Teesta Setalvad’s affidavit clearly points out that they were paid these amounts (averaging to Rs. 48,000 p.m. in case of Teesta Setalvad and around 47,700 p.m. in case of Javed Anand) for discharging their duties as Project Directors and Project Administrators as per the budget approved by the Trustees of Sabrang Trust and sanctioned by the donor organizations for specific projects having nothing to do with the Gulberg Memorial.
Moreover, since 2010 the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (UNVFVT), administered by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, has been funding CJP’s efforts to provide legal aid to the victims of the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom.
It may also be noted that annual audited accounts of both the CJP and Sabrang Trust have been filed, on time each year, with the Income Tax office, Charity Commissioner’s Office and the FCRA authorities. None of these authorities have till date found any irregularity in the audited accounts filed by them.
Questions for the Auditors:
The IO of the case wrote a letter to the auditors of the CJP (M/s Haribhakti & Co., Chartered Accountants) and the auditors of Sabrang Trust making a number of allegations.
1. Setalvad and Anand were guilty of using CJP’s funds to pay for their “personal expenses” including “branded and costly shoes to movie tickets and grocery purchases” purchased through their personal credit cards.
The auditor’s reply has stated that “we have observed that none of such personal expenses has been debited in the books of account of CJP”.
2. The funds of CJP were used by its trustees for the purpose other than its ‘Objects’.
The auditors replied that “all relevant records such as vouchers/bills, books of account, minute book… were made available to us by the management of CJP for our verification … we have not noticed that the funds of CJP were used by its trustees for the purpose other than its ‘Objects’”.
3. Questions raised about reimbursements to Setalvad and Anand for expenses incurred through their credit cards
Haribhakti & Co. state that the expenses so reimbursed were “through the notice and concurrence of the Board of Trustees of CJP through the resolutions for adoption of audited financial statements of CJP for the respective year”.
4. There were “huge withdrawals of cash”.
The auditors replied: “On the basis of information and explanation received and documents examined by us we did not find “huge cash withdrawals”.
Pattern of allegations:
It is clear that the motive of the Crime Branch Ahmedabad, and the Gujarat State, is to, under the guise of investigating allegations on funds received for a Museum, actually dig far beyind into a roving and vindictive inquiry encompassing Setalvad and Anand’s personal funds and those of the organisations that they represent.
Since 2004 first, and then 2010, Teesta Setalvad has already been targeted in three other false criminal cases for which she has had to seek anticipatory bail. The Supreme Court has stayed the malcious investigations into two of these and one became infructuous after a SC-appointed Inquiry Committee exonerated Setalvad of trumped up charges (Best Bakery case, See Table 2 here) In the eleven-long years of the battle for justice, the allegations against the activists have remained the same; only the actors have changed. In 2004 it was Zahira Shaikh, a star witness in the Best Bakery case. In 2010 it was a former employee of CPJ, Rais Khan Pathan. In 2011, it was Yasmeen Shaikh egged on by Rais Khan. In the Naroda Gaam and Pamdharwada mass graves case too, the instigator was and is Rais Khan.
In the present case also similar allegations sought to be made through some residents of the Gulberg society, who are being manipulated by Rais Khan who is being propped up by powerful persons including influential lawyers representing the ruling party who are supporting him. The Supreme Court has already stayed two such complaints in which even sections of the Gujarat police have played a role siding openly with Khan. The matters are pending final hearing.
At the end of the day, the Gujarat government has succeeded in its attempt to direct the energies of these activists from real work to wasting all their time in filing affidavits and counter affidavits in the courts. The State knows very well that nothing would come out of it. But as we know that Gujarat government has mastered the art of utilizing the lengthy process of legal justice system into subverting the justice system in its favour like it did in cases of Zakia Jafri, Ishrat Jahan, Sohrabuddin,Tulsi Prajapati and many such cases.
No need to add here that the same modus operandi can be seen operating now at the National level. All voices of resistance are being curbed under the garb of flimsy ‘IB Reports’. In last few days many organisations have received notices from FCRA department to provide endless details of last several years – even though these are already in public domain.
It is an attempt to discredit human rights defenders by making baseless allegations of financial bungling against them. The government knows that nothing will ultimately come out of such allegations but by doing so the state is strategically trying to put activists and human rights groups on the defensive and thus force them to unnecessarily participate in an endless web of litigations in trying to prove their innocence which eventually will affect their work. This is the Gujarat model. However, it has underestimated the tenacity and courage of these fighters.