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HOURS AFTER the Gujarat High Court denied activist Teesta Setalvad's bail application and ordered her to "surrender immediately," a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court gave her temporary protection and postponed the HC ruling for a week on Saturday.

Setalvad, who is now out on bail, is accused of fabricating evidence related to the Gujarat riots in 2002.

After a two-judge vacation bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Prashant Kumar Mishra disagreed on granting interim protection and asked the Chief Justice of India (CJI) to assign it to a larger bench, the Supreme Court bench of Justices B R Gavai, AS Bopanna, and Dipankar Datta held a special hearing at night, past 9.15 p.m.

Earlier in the day, the Gujarat High Court, in denying Setalvad's bail application, stated that giving her freedom would "deepen and widen communal polarisation" at a time when "we are heading towards progress of the country with an effort to strengthen communal harmony and brotherhood." Setalvad had filed "false affidavits" in order to "unsettle a democratically elected government," bring "disrepute" to the image of then-chief minister Narendra Modi, and "thereby send him to jail and compel him to resign," according to the court of Justice Nirzar Desai. The High Court ordered Setalvad to "surrender immediately," rejecting her lawyer's appeal to delay the sentence for 30 days. "What is the urgency in taking her into custody?" Justice Gavai said, surprised by the HC's action. Will the sky collapse if temporary protection is provided for a few days? "What is the terrifying urgency?"

"However, it is to be noted that after the FIR was registered against the petitioner on 25.06.2022 and the petitioner was arrested, this court, considering the application for grant of interim bail, had granted the same on certain conditions, vide order dated 02.09.2022," the SC bench said.

"One of the considerations for this court was that the petitioner was a lady entitled to special protection under Section 437 CrPC...

We believe that, in light of this reality, the learned single judge should have granted at least some protection so that the petitioner has enough time to dispute the order... before this court," it stated.

"We grant stay of the impugned order passed by the high court for a period of one week from today," the Supreme Court ruled, "without considering anything on the merits of the matter, finding that the learned single judge was not correct in (not) granting even some protection."

Senior Advocate CU Singh, representing Setalvad, stated that she had never violated any bail conditions. In response to a question from the bench about whether the trial had begun, Singh stated that the charges had still to be drafted. Only two of the seven sections against her were non-bailable, according to him.

Singh stated that the HC denied the request to prolong the interim protection, but no reasons were offered.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who argued for the Gujarat police, said the court should treat Setalvad's case like that of any other common criminal. Even common offenders, according to Justice Gavai, are entitled to interim relief.

The SG stated that there is more to the case than meets the eye and that the appellant was misusing all forums. fore a suitable bench to hear the Special Leave Petition. Earlier in the day, the HC stated in its 127-page verdict: "Prima facie, this court is of the opinion that today, if the applicant... is enlarged on bail, that will deepen and widen the communal polarisation... at a time when we are heading towards progress of the country with efforts to strengthen communal harmony and brotherhood... At first glance, it appears that, despite the formation of an NGO called Citizens for Justice and Peace, the current petitioner has never fought to secure justice and peace."...... "In fact, she has dared to file false affidavits before the country's highest court, the Hon'ble Supreme Court." Her work was mostly focused on polarising the inhabitants of a certain community in order to disrupt the peace... and she accomplished this by agitating the people and filing bogus cases before various forums, including the Hon'ble Supreme Court, by filing fraudulent and fabricated affidavits, and even by sending letters to the UN Human Rights Council, for which she was cautioned by the Hon'ble Supreme Court," it added.

The court stated that because Setalvad has a "past track record" of tampering with evidence, granting her bail would send the wrong signal that everything is so lenient in a democratic country that even if a person goes to the extent of trying to unseat the establishment and "disrepute the image of the then chief minister" (Narendra Modi) to see that he is sent to jail, the person can be released on bail.

"This will encourage others to follow suit.""Tomorrow, a situation may arise in which an outside force may use and persuade a person to make similar efforts, posing a threat to the nation or a specific state by using the same modalities," it stated.

The bench inquired why Setalvad couldn't be granted reprieve for another week. The SG stated that it was not a matter of an individual, but of the rule of law.

Mehta said that the SIT formed by the Supreme Court to investigate the riots got pre-typed and pre-signed statements. According to witnesses, these were provided to them by Setalvad and they have no idea what they contain, he claimed.

He stated that the Supreme Court's decision in the Zakia Jafri case elaborated on the appellant's involvement, whose activities had tarnished the country abroad.

Justice Gavai asked again "whether the heavens will fall in eight days." The bench stated that it would stay the HC order and schedule a hearing before a normal bench.

Instead, the SG sought the court to prolong the period for appeal, but the court ordered a stay. It further requested that the Registrar (Judicial) seek directives from the CJI.

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