DC Edit | Justice exacts steep price: Teesta trial proved that...

The arrest, incarceration and grant of interim bail by the apex court to Teesta Setalvad in a case related to attempt to implicate top political functionaries of the state in the Gujarat riots have marked the path people who pursue justice will be forced to take in the country. Ms Setalvad walked out of jail on Saturday, 70 days after she was arrested, thanks to the Supreme Court which was judicious enough not only to come to the aid of a citizen but also, in the course of the proceedings, exposed the power imbalance between the citizen and the state and its myriad instruments.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the whole episode has its roots in the references the apex court had made while dismissing a petition filed by Zakia Jafri, wife of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the riots. The petition challenged the clean chit given by the special investigation team, appointed by the Supreme Court, to former Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and others in the 2002 post-Godhra riots cases. Ms Setalvad and her NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace, were co-petitioners.

Legal brains are still in the process of figuring out the logic behind the judgment authored by now retired judge A.M. Khanwilkar, which declared that “the falsity of their (petitioners) claims had been fully exposed by the SIT after a thorough investigation” and advised the state that “all those involved in such abuse of process need to be in the dock and proceed in accordance with law”.
The state lost no time to comply with the advice; a day after it was pronounced, a crime branch inspector filed a first information report in Ahmedabad charging Ms Setalvad, former Gujarat director-general of police R.B. Sreekumar and former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhat with conspiring to fabricate facts and documents, tutor witnesses and abuse the process of law to frame people. A special investigation team, formed to probe the charges, arrested the three the next day. They have been under state custody from that date as the high court has put off the hearing of their bail petition for six weeks.

That the Supreme Court, while hearing Ms Setalvad’s application for interim bail, did not hide its dismay in the high court for keeping the bail application pending for six weeks, and asked if it was standard practice for it to do so, signalled the apex court’s discomfiture at the way a constitutional court handled the case. That it chose to ask the prosecution if the investigating team has collected evidence in the case other than reproducing what was there in the Supreme Court judgment was a comment on the way the state police went about investigating the case, especially since the evidence was documentary in nature. The solicitor-general’s replies were more about the seriousness of the case than about the evidence the investigators have gathered against the accused. They succeeded not in impressing the court but in exposing the investigation.

The case illustrates the fact that pursuit of justice is too costly an affair for an individual in this country. The lucky ones can walk out of jails thanks to conscientious judges; the others, instead of seeing the guilty behind the bars, could perish there. A democracy deserves better options.

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