Social activist Teesta Setalvad and husband Javed Anand are facing the heat from the central government over the alleged issue of embezzling funds and violating the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) even as activists and former chief minister Suresh Mehta have come out in their support, terming the CBI intervention as an unfair misuse of power against them. In an interview with Asad Ashraf, Setalvad tells that the allegations made against her don’t have a grain of truth.
Edited Excerpts from an Interview
What is the truth in allegations against you of embezzling funds procured from Ford Foundation for constructing a Museum for communal harmony?
None of the allegations made by the Gujarat police Crime Branch are true. Some of them have been recently brought by the powers that be to the cbi. The Gujarat crime branch is headed by those very police officers whose professional conduct is under scrutiny in the ongoing Zakia Jafri case in the Gujarat High Court. We have provided documentary evidence (running into 25,000 pages) to investigators. There is no chargesheet, just intimidation, harassment and vilification in the public domain.
The original complaint by some of Gulberg victims was about 4.6 lakh collected for a dream project, the Gulberg Memorial, that had to be dropped because of steep rise in land prices. The said money is still lying unutilised in the accounts. This entire chain of vindictive actions began and was aggressively pursued by the Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch — many of whose officers have recently been let off in the ‘extra judicial killings’ post 2002. The vendetta began in 2013 (January) when our accounts were illegally frozen; then desperate attempts to take us into custody failed In February 2015, the Gujarat Police Crime Branch arrived at our home within minutes of a high court order refusing anticipatory bail. When this ploy did not work, the Gujarat Home Department wrote to the Ministry of Home Affairs FCRA Division and a spate of inspections ensued. All this is being driven by those who are irked at the concrete results we achieved post 2002. They were further enraged when all attempts to ‘silence us’ failed.
The authorities have accused you of using money procured from foreign donors to carry out anti-national activities, and also called you “threat to national security”. Please comment.
It is a shocking insult to the Indian Constitution and our republic that work for justice and peace building is considered anti-national. It is certainly antithetical to the ideology of the proto-fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that is the bedrock of the present regime.
We have broken no laws. Section 3 of fcra, 2010, bars certain ‘persons’ (political parties and its office bearers, government servants and those associated with registered newspapers and those involved in the production and broadcast of news) from receiving foreign donations.
However, the very next section, that is section 4 which is subtitled ‘Persons to whom section 3 shall not apply’ states: “Nothing contained in section 3 shall apply to the acceptance, by any person specified 3 in that section, of any foreign contribution where such contribution is accepted by him, subject to the provisions of section 10- (a) by way of salary, wages or other remuneration due to him or to any group of persons working under him, from any foreign source or by way of payment in the ordinary course of business transacted in India by such foreign source.”
Sabrang Communications and Publishing Pvt. Ltd Co. which published the monthly ‘Communalism Combat’ signed a Consultancy Agreement with Ford Foundation in 2004 and 2006 “to address the issues of caste and communalism” through a clearly defined set of activities which had nothing whatsoever to do with Communalism Combat or remuneration to Javed Anand or Teesta Setalvad towards discharging editorial/managerial functions. The Consultancy was signed by Sabrang Communications only after advice from eminent legal counsel that such an agreement was covered under the exclusion stipulated under Section 4 of the Act and therefore the consultancy fees (not grant or donation) received would not be in violation of FCRA 2010. Ford Foundation in fact deducted Tax Deductible at Source (TDS) with every instalment of consultancy fees it paid to Sabrang Communications. The activities undertaken and the expenses incurred were in accordance with the agreement. Activities and Financial Reports were submitted annually to the satisfaction of Ford Foundation.
Do you suggest that after Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government, it’s now the Modi-led central government targeting you for pursuing the legal battle related to Gujarat 2002?
The genesis is important. This began on 4 January, 2014 with the first baseless fir against five of us accused of so-called embezzlement of funds related to the Gulberg Society.
There was only 4.6 lakh collected for the Gulberg museum. So the entire investigation should have been into that 4.6 lakh. The Gujarat Police was from the beginning overreaching. All the crores that the media talked about, which was information fed by the police, was money collected for legal aid or other activities of the two trusts.