How Gujarat Govt dredged up an old land law to try fix SETALVAD

Mar 26, 2014 No Comments by
The First Information Report against Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand is for allegedly cheating residents of Gulberg Society of money collected in 2008 by Sabrang Trust and Citizens in for Justice and Peace. The money was collected to convert Gulberg Society into “a museum of resistance”. Below is the story:
This FIR was registered in response to a nine-month-old complaint by some former residents of Gulberg Society. The complainants had said they were not being given the money collected in their name, even as they lived in penury. Anand and Setalvad had responded to the complaint in May 2013, clarifying their accounts and the nature of donations raised and for what they had been utilised. The Ahmedabad Police’s Crime Branch did nothing about the complaint for nine months, but suddenly registered an FIR days after Setalvad and Zakia Jafri announced their decision to challenge the lower court’s order in the Gujarat High Court, asking that charges be framed against chief minister Modi.

The idea of a memorial to victims of communal violence is seven years old now. “We conceived the idea in 2007 when the Supreme Court cases were not moving,” Setalvad told Scroll.in. “There was a lot of despair on the part of the survivors. The idea was that we would think of a memorial for all victims of communal violence. So from Kashmiri Pandits to Gujarat 2002, etc, and it was an ambitious project.”

The FIR claims that donations were asked for and received by both trusts, but Setalvad claims it was only Sabrang. The CJP, Setalvad explains, works mainly to give legal aid to riot victims, whereas Sabrang is the general trust to work on communal harmony.

At the time the memorial was proposed, there were no takers for the flats in Gulberg Society, which is in a Hindu-dominated area in the main city of Ahmedabad. The Sabrang Trust proposed to raise money through donations to purchase the properties from residents at market rates. Residents in turn promised not to sell their property until Sabrang was able to raise enough funds. However, due to rising land prices across Ahmedabad, Sabrang realised they would not be able to raise enough money through only donations. They gave up the idea altogether in 2012.

“By 2012 it was clear that land prices had gone up by four times, so we would have needed an amount which was now impossible through donations,” said Setalvad. “Our organisation incurs an expense of Rs 5 lakhs a month, out of which just Rs 3.5-4 lakh is on legal fees. So we directed the 4.5 lakhs collected for the Gulberg museum to legal aid, with written permission of the donors.” She said she was willing to produce those permission letters in court, but declined to reveal the names of the donors to Scroll.in.

Sabrang then informed Gulberg Society about the decision, which Society accepted. At the end of 2012, the Society passed a resolution stating that owners could sell their property to people of any religion or race, as was the case since it was built in 1963. This resolution was rendered void a little over half a year later, when the Gujarat government dredged up an old law that prevents citizens of a community from selling their property to people outside the community.

The Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provision for Protection of Tenants from Premises in Disturbed Areas Act of 1986 was meant to protect people fleeing their homes from communal violence from making a hasty decision of disposing of their property and later regretting it. Around 40 per cent of Ahmedabad is covered by this act. In August 2013, eight months after the Gulberg Society resolution to sell their property to whomever residents pleased, and four months after Zakia Jafri filed her first case against the SIT’s closure report, the Gujarat government suddenly extended the application of the law to, among other places, the Gulberg Society and Naroda Patiya.

“Gulberg and Naroda Patiya are two pockets in completely Hindu-dominated areas, which means they are obviously not going to be able to sell to their own community,” said Setalvad. Muslims don’t want to live in the Hindu areas for the fear of risking their lives in a possible future pogrom.  Setalvad calls the law illegal and says that it violates the right to own and sell property. “You’re tying their hands and by doing so, you’re getting them to fall at your feet,” she said. “Their case is still pending in the court. This law and its use in Gujarat ought to have been a matter of independent investigation by the media in this country.”

She added, “I am alleging openly that this is being done to try and push the survivors of Gulberg Society to a wall, in the hope that maybe one or two of them in desperation might bend to the will of the state and turn hostile even in their own criminal trial.” No one has yet been convicted for the Gulberg Society massacre.

As to the museum, there were no papers, and no transaction between Citizens for Justice and Peace, Sabrang Trust or the residents of Gulberg Society, which Setalvad says, indicates quite clearly that there can be no possible case of cheating. “What is cheating?” Setalvad asked. “You can say it is cheating if I have taken money from you or property from you. Neither has happened. There is no ingredient here to amount to that.”

In fact, the original complaint about the cheating was not filed by representatives of the Society, but had been typed by a few members on the society letterhead without authorisation. The authorised representatives of the society released an affidavit (.pdf) on March 13, 2013, to categorically deny that they had any conflict with Setalvad or her NGOs.

“We state that the NGO has already authorised the society to sell the property last year and therefore there cannot be any grievance against the NGO as the society has not parted with any part of the land,” said an open letter by Sabrang. “Moreover, the donors don’t feel cheated and therefore the signatories, who have not parted with a single pie, have no locus to file any such complaint against the NGO.”

One of the main charges in the FIR is that the two organisations collected funds from foreign donors for the memorial, but had not given the money to the intended recipients. It alleges that the foreign donations Sabrang Trust received between April 10, 2007 and February 20, 2014, amounting to Rs 2.62 crores, were intended for the memorial. It also said that Citizens for Justice and Peace received foreign donations of Rs 1.31 crores.

In a 41-page public affidavit, Setalvad and Anand show excerpts from their accounts to prove that the total amount raised for the museum did not exceed Rs 4.5 lakhs, only Rs 50,000 of which came from foreign donors. The Sabrang Trust received only Rs. 1.33 crore in foreign funds during this period, the bulk of which went towards legal aid. Citizens for Justice and Peace received Rs. 1.15 crores. The Ahmedabad crime branch, they say, manipulated their bank statements to arrive at the figures of Rs 2.62 crores and Rs 1.31 crores.

They two have also filed a case in the Bombay High Court seeking to quash the FIR and sought interim relief from the Supreme Court. Setalvad alleges that this FIR is a conspiracy of the BJP government in Gujarat. “The desire of the Gujarat government is to somehow paralyse this organisation financially by getting all these malafide allegations made,” said Setalvad. “A large part of our donations is to legal aid.”

(Extracts from Scroll.in)

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