Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Teesta case: Gujarat police "did not even know" memorial for riot victims got just Rs 4.5 lakh as donation

Gulberg Society
By Satyakam Mehta
Two days ahead of the Supreme Court's bar on the Gujarat police to arrest well-known human rights activist Teesta Setalvad and and her husband Javed Anand ends, eminent advocate Mihir Desai has said that the police charge that Rs 1.5 crore for the memorial for the victims of the 2002 riots were “embezzled” suggests how casually the investigators have looked into details. Desai told this correspondent, “They were not even aware about the extent of donations for the purpose. We informed them with proper documents that Rs 4.5 lakh was collected.”
Talking about the controversy surrounding the proposed memorial, Desai said only Rs 4.5 lakh could be collected for the purpose but the money was not adequate to purchase all the houses and lands in the society to set up a memorial. “The donors were informed, who in return, asked the money to be used for other specific human rights work”, he added.
Desai went on, “The Gulberg Society office-bearers were informed in writing that the collection was not enough and the memorial was not working out. Every single communique relating to this is with the police and in the courts.”
Asked specifically about the memorial, Desai said only Rs 4.5 lakh could be collected for the purpose but the money was not adequate to purchase all the houses and lands in the society to set up a memorial. “The donors were informed, who in return, asked the money to be used for other specific human rights work”, he added.
Summarising what is already with the courts and the Crime Branch police, Desai, who is one Setalvad’s counsels also, and is based in Mumbai, said, “Every single bank account statement, every single credit card statement and as many as 25,000 vouchers are with the police and are attached to more than 1,000 pages of affidavits that we filed in the court.”
Desai insisted, “It is surprising for the police to say and the (Gujarat High) Court to agree that we are not cooperating with the investigation, though the FIR against us and the inquiry thereafter has gone much far ahead than the original memorial case.” He added, despite this “we have submitted every single paper they wanted.”
“Courts in the state have been told that the police got the accounts of the trusts re-audited and could not find anything there”, Desai wondered how could personal expenses from the credit cards of Teesta and others be described as “misuse of donations, while no such usage has ever been debited to the accounts of the two trusts.”
According to him, “Donors like the Ford Foundation and all others don’t give monies just like that. They want an account of every single penny spent. It is surprising that the police have not even approached the donors to verify if they were satisfied with the use of funds. The Home Ministry examines every details.”
“All documents and deeds of the trusts, which have eminent people from various fields on the board, approving reimbursement to Setalvad and Anand to carry out executive functions of the various public welfare activities have been submitted”, he asserted.
The top lawyer's observations come amidst allegations running high against Setalvad, the person who fought some of the most crucial legal battles for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots. While the riots may be going into the backburner, pitched legal battles between human rights activists and the Gujarat government continue.
Setalvad, along with Anand and other members of NGOs, Citizens for Peace and Justice and Sabrang Trust, with the help of battery of two dozen lawyers, have fought about 20 cases in various courts to bring in life imprisonment orders for as many as 125 convicts, besides many others who got smaller sentences.
Electorally Gujarat's BJP rulers may have gained, but, thanks to Setalvad, they have lost face among respected sections of society, one reason why, many believe, they are moving so fast to “prove” Setalvad and other guilty of embezzlement. They are facing charges that they abused for purely personal gains funds collected in the name of riot victims of Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad, where they were supposed to raise a memorial in homage to those who were killed.
The charge, filed by the Crime Branch police in Ahmedabad, is that Teesta and the public trusts she represents collected donations for the purpose that was never fulfilled. She, through eminent lawyers, has dismissed the charges as “malicious and politically-motivated”. According to her the charges were virtually to hound her team for taking on the then chief minister and now Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The “political motivation” charge spawns from her long-drawn court battle for Zakia Jafri, widow of slain politician Ehsan Jafri, who was among 69 people killed in a massacre at Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, that is being fiercely fought with her lawyers arguing for over seven years in various courts to establish the involvement of the highest office in the Gujarat Government in provoking targetted killings of a particular community.
The present case against her, in which she has got reprieve from Supreme Court that has prevented her arrest till February 19, is that she through her organisations, Citizens for Peace and Justice and Sabrang Trust, promised the residents of the devastated Gulberg Society to raise a memorial to those who lost their lives, and that they should not sell off their houses or land.
But the memorial never took shape and the donations collected for it were embezzled. The charge that is being vigorously flagged in the courts is that Teesta and her husband Javed Anand used loads of this money through credit cards for personal use like foreign sojourns, buying branded clothes as well as expensive liquor.

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