Teesta Setalvad recorded her statement before the CBI in connection with a case against her firm for allegedly receiving around $2.9 lakh in foreign donations in violation of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). She had been asked by a local court to appear before the central agency. It’s an interesting development. Government need to create some laws pertaining to financial disclosure of Non-government organizations. India has several organisations of these kinds and hardly anybody knows how they are financed and how they use money. In 2013, 12 residents of the Gulbarg Society who were the victim of Gujarat riots, accused Setalvad of collecting donations in the name of riot victims but failing to use them for their benefit and sent a legal notice to her. They claimed that she had collected huge donations from national and international organisations in the name of providing financial assistance for reconstruction of houses or developing the society into a museum but it was not passed to the members of the society. They also sought to ban her organisation “Citizens for Justice and Peace” and prevent them from entering the society to organise programmes. The Ahmedabad Crime Branch is conducting an inquiry into the matter.
On 13 March 2013, the official representatives including the secretary and chairman of the Gulbarg Cooperative Housing Society in a letter to the joint commissioner of Police, Crime Branch, Ahmedabad, informed him that the letter-head of the society had been misused by some residents and the claims being made by them were patently false since nothing had been parted from them. A similar letter was also released to the media, in a press release CJP and Sabrang clarified that CJP never sought nor received any money for the museum. Sabrang Trust had raised an amount of Rs. 4,60,285 nationally and internationally from donors for the purpose of the museum and since the plan has been abandoned due to spiraling real estate prices, the matter is between the trust and the donors which they will address when final decision is taken. All other funds, nationally and internationally raised, have been funds legitimately collected for activities that they publicly engage in. Their accounts are audited and submitted to the relevant authorities. Subsequent to the letter written by the Gulbarg Society members to the police, the police sent them a letter asking for the status quo to be maintained while investigations were in progress. Later, the Crime Branch claimed that the complaint did not have any substance and instead filed an FIR against Setalvad.
After a First Information Report was filed by the Ahmedabad police on 4 January 2014, Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand were granted interim bail. According to the judge, similar relief has been provided in the past when false allegations were raised. The bail application stated that “The FIR is a malafide action of the Crime Branch, Ahmedabad, to intimidate a human rights defender. This is the fifth time that a false criminal case has been lodged since 2004 against her as her organization’s consistent legal support to the victims of 2002 riots. Gulbarga cooperative housing society had been totally burnt down by politically motivated anti-social elements and 68 people had lost their lives in the massacre.” It also said that the accusation was brought by “powerful forces in Gujarat who wish(ed) to stymie the appeal in the Zakia Jafri case.
On finding that the Crime Branch, Ahmedabad instead of acting on his complaint had filed an FIR against Setalvad and others, the Secretary of the Gulbarg Housing Society, Firoz Gulzar Pathan moved the court complaining against Gujarat police’s biased approach. The court sought a report from the Crime Branch. The Police responded by claiming that the complaint did not have any substance. This was countered by the complainant’s advocate who maintained that the Crime Branch had not even bothered to question the complainant before shelving the complaint. This led the magisterial court on 15 February 2014 to direct the city crime branch to lodge an FIR and start investigation against former residents of Gulbarg Society who had filed the complaint against Setalvad last year. On 28 November 2014, local court rejected pleas filed by activist Teesta Setalvad, her husband Javed Anand and their two NGOs seeking to de-freeze their bank accounts attached earlier by police in connection with the embezzlement case. On 12 February 2015, Gujarat High Court rejected Setalvad’s anticipatory bail plea regarding the case. However she was given an interim protection by the Supreme Court of India and on 19 March 2015, a two-judge bench of the Court referred the issue involved in her case to a large three-judge bench.
The CBI, which registered a case on July 8 against Sabrang Communication and Publishing Pvt Limited, has alleged that SCPPL was not registered under FCRA for collecting money from abroad and the amount of nearly Rs. 1.8 crore ($2.9 lakh) was, therefore, received in violation of the Act as the organisation needed to seek prior approval of the Union Home Ministry.
Setalvad had helped Ms. Zakia Jafri to file a complaint against then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and 61 others for their alleged involvement in the post-Godhra riots. But an Ahmedabad court recently accepted the Special Investigation closure reports; giving a clean chit to Mr. 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. Twelve Gulbarg victims served notice on her and lodged a complaint with the police commissioner who asked the Crime Branch to inquire into it. 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 developing the Gulbarg society into a museum.
Following investigations, the Crime Branch has registered an FIR against Teesta and her husband Javed Anand.
The CBI, which is probing the firm’s accounts from 2004 to 2014, claimed to have recovered documents showing that the money received from the Ford Foundation had not been cleared by the Home Ministry. Setalvad, during the July 14 searches by CBI, had termed the action by the probe agency as a” shameful political vendetta”.
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