Supreme Court refers Teesta's bail plea to larger bench

Supreme Court refers Teesta's bail plea to larger bench

The Supreme Court on Thursday referred to a larger bench the anticipatory bail plea of activist Teesta Seetalvad and her husband in a case of alleged embezzlement of funds raised after the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The apex court, however, extended the protection from arrest granted to Seetalvad and her husband Javed Anand on February 19 till the time the larger bench decide the questions relating to the jurisprudence of anticipatory bail vis-a-vis non-cooperation of the accused.

Notably, a three-judge bench presided by Chief Justice H L Dattu had on February 12 granted the interim protection to the couple the day their plea was dismissed by the Gujarat High Court. The matter was then listed for hearing before a bench of Justices S J Mukhopadhaya (since retired) and N V Ramana, which also extended the relief to them.

But in a twist in the case, the matter was posted before another bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and A K Goel. Notably, the decision to post the matter to new bench came after an article by advocate Prashant Bhushan appeared in a prominent newspaper, questioning the practice of political executives attending marriage functions of judges’ family members. A top political executive attended a marriage reception hosted by the judges in the previous bench.

Subsequently, reports appeared stating that the matter was withdrawn from the previous bench without any of the judges recusing from the case. This was, however, denied by the SC registry but the name of the judge who withdrew from the case was not revealed.

A month after reserving the verdict and observing “liberty is paramount and cannot be put in ventilator of the Intensive Care Unit” in the case of financial irregularities, the bench led by Justice Misra passed its brief 5-page judgment on Thursday.  “The concept of regulated freedom, the societal restriction, the supremacy of the law, the concept of anticipatory bail and the assertion of the prosecution about the non-cooperation of the appellants in the investigation, and the asseverations made by the appellants, we think it appropriate that the matter should be heard by a larger bench,” the court said.

The bench said that the question that arose for consideration was if liberty on the one hand and fair and effective investigation on the other, made out a case for extending the benefit (of anticipatory bail) under Section 438 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

The Gujarat Police sought arrest of the couple claiming that they failed to provide audited accounts relating to Rs 8 crore received by their NGOs Citizens for Justice and Peace and Sabrang Trust.

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