Ahmedabad: Social activist Teesta Setalvad on Monday said if police fail to apply laws with honesty, impartiality and autonomy and get away without following the due process related to arrest, then it can become a threat to anybody and not just campaigners.
“We have a set of laws in this country — IPC (Indian Penal Code) laws and other laws in this country — and those laws need to be applied with some degree of honesty and with some degree of impartiality and autonomy by the police,” Setalvad told news channel NDTV two days after her release on interim bail from the Sabarmati central jail here in a case of fabricating evidence to frame “innocent people” in the 2002 Gujarat riots cases. The Mumbai-based activist, arrested in June-end, was granted interim bail by the Supreme Court last week after spending 70 days behind bars (63 days in jail and seven in police custody).
Citing the example of fact-checker Mohammad Zubair, who was arrested in June in a case of allegedly hurting religious sentiments through his tweets and later granted interim bail by the Supreme Court, and others subject to the so-called “crackdown”, she said the question here is the police not becoming an arm of the executive.
“I think it is quite worrying actually because if you have a situation when the police become used to and get away with this kind without due process of arrest, then it can be a threat to anybody tomorrow. It could be a businessman, it could be anybody. It might start with an activist and could be anybody,” Setalvad said.
Setalvad said the Constitution gives right to people who feel they are being discriminated against by the state. “That right cannot be taken away from the individual,” she said.
The founding trustee of the NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), said the country needs to realise that personal freedom is important and incarceration cannot be the norm.
“The Supreme Court on July 11 passed a very strong judgment on what bail norms should be in this country….(The) Supreme Court says bail hearings should happen in 2-3 weeks in the sessions court, in high court and then ..it needs to be taken very seriously,” said Setalvad, who was picked up by a Gujarat police team from her Mumbai residence on June 25 and later placed under arrest.
She highlighted the need to provide jail manuals in different languages to undertrial prisoners so that they get to know about their rights. Talking about her arrest, Setalvad said she was questioned only once and that too for around four hours during her police custody with the Ahmedabad crime branch.
The Ahmedabad crime branch had registered an FIR (first information report) against Setalvad and two others — former state DGP RB Sreekumar and ex-IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt — a day after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition in June challenging the clean chit given by an SIT (special investigation team) to then-Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and others in the post-Godhra riots cases.
The trio was accused of abusing the process of law by conspiring to fabricate evidence with an attempt to frame “innocent people” for an offence punishable with capital punishment in connection with the widespread riots triggered by the torching of a compartment of the Sabarmati Express by a mob near near Godhra station on February 27, 2002.
In its judgement passed in June while dismissing the petition, the Supreme Court had observed, “At the end of the day, it appears to us that a coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the State of Gujarat along with others was to create sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge.” “The falsity of their claims had been fully exposed by the SIT after a thorough investigation … As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceed in accordance with law,” the apex court had said in its order.
Setalvad, Sreekumar and Bhatt were charged by the Gujarat police under sections 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (to use as genuine forged documents), 194 (fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction of capital offence) and 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), among others, of the IPC.