The Supreme Court stayed the arrest of civil rights’ activist Teesta Setalvad, her husband Javed Anand and three others in an alleged misappropriation case till February 19. Earlier, the Gujarat High Court had refused to grant anticipatory bail to them. The case pertains to a First Information Report (FIR) registered by the Ahmedabad Crime Branch last January, which alleged that Setalvad, Anand, former MP Ehsan Jafri’s son Tanvir and two office bearers of the society — Salimbhai Sandhi and Firoz Gulzar — had embezzled funds to the tune of Rs. 1.5 crore meant for the construction of a memorial for riot victims. The money which should have been used for the poor and the needy, probing in the matter suggests that the fund was misused for their personal comfort.
The facts of this case reflect the sorry state of affairs of the NGOs. Freedom to the civil society to function with flexibility is positive, however too much freedom can lead to misuse of the NGO’s fund by the individual or group. This type of scam gives bad name to civil society. It is therefore, very important to have strict laws regulating accountability and monitoring of the NGOs to maintain a trust level and ensure honest functioning of it. Nowadays, NGOs are referred to only those organisations that pursue wider social aims with political aspects, but they are not political organisations such as political parties.
India has 3.3 million NGOs; it means, one NGO per 400 citizens. It is time to create a Ministry for better monitoring of NGOs. Several people misuse NGO’s name to serve their personal and vested interests.
Twelve Gulbarg Society victims served notice to Setalvad and lodged a complaint against her at Ahmedabad Commissionrate, where commissioner asked the Crime Branch to inquire into the matter. The residents alleged that she had sought and collected huge donations from national and international bodies under the pretext of providing financial assistance for reconstruction of houses or converting the Gulbarg Society into a museum. The complainants said she collected a donation of Rs. 63 lakh for the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), of which she is secretary, and Rs. 88 lakh for Sabrang Trust; but nothing was passed on to the members.
Sixty-nine Muslims, including Zakia Jafri’s husband and former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri, were killed at the Gulbarg Society in Ahmedabad. Ms. Setalvad had helped Ms. Zakia to file a complaint against the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and 61 others for their alleged involvement in the post-Godhra riots. However, recently Ahmedabad court accepted the Special Investigation Team’s closure report and gave a clean chit to Modi and others. The Gulbarg Society victims have accused Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand of collecting foreign funds for riot victims but not using them.
Setalvad, who has been espousing the causes of the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots, has contended that the case was filed against them with political motives and they had not misused any funds. On March 25, 2014, the session’s court had rejected their pre-arrest bail applications.
Setalvad is a civil rights activist and journalist. Her organisation, CJP, is a co petitioner seeking criminal trial of Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat and the current Prime Minister of India and 62 other politicians and government officials for complicity in the Gujarat violence of 2002 and whose names did not figure in any of the FIRs /chargesheets that formed the subject matter of the various Session Trials regarding the riots at that point of time. Four of the accused since then were chargesheeted of whom Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi have already been convicted.
In November 2010, Setalvad was accused of pressuring Zaheera Sheikh, the key witness in the Best Bakery case, to make certain statements, leading to the unprecedented transfer of the case outside Gujarat. In August 2005, a Supreme Court of India committee absolved her of the charges of inducement levelled against her by Zaheera and awarded a one year jail sentence to Zaheera for perjury. In 2013, Tehelka in an undercover investigation discovered that Zaheera had been paid to alter her testimony. Tehelka recorded BJP member Madhu Srivastava, described by Tehelka as a “close associate of Narendra Modi” and Batthoo Srivastava describing how they had paid Rs. 1.8 million to Zaheera.
Gulbarg Society members also sought to ban her organisation “Citizens for Justice and Peace” and prevent her and husband entering the society. The Ahmedabad Crime Branch is conducting an inquiry into the matter.