NEW DELHI: In an environment legitimised by television channels that rush to throw mud on individuals who run foul of the establishment for standing up for rights and justice, The Citizen as a matter of editorial policy found it imperative to ask social activists and editors Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand to respond to the questions being raised by the so called ‘experts’ on television and elsewhere without caring to inform the viewer, only to condemn the activists. Excerpts of the interview are carried below.
Both Setalvad and Anand are widely perceived by informed sections of society as being pilloried by the current dispensation for the strong positions they have taken on the Gujarat violence in 2002, their strong commitment to fighting the legal cases against the perpetrators of the violence, their dedication to bring justice to those who lost entire families in violence that sent shockwaves across the world and led to Prime Minister Narendra Modi being denied a visa by the United States until he won the Lok Sabha elections.
The Supreme Court will be giving its ruling on the plea for anticipatory bail soon, but organisations, political parties, individuals from across India have been signing petitions, holding meetings, issuing statements to ensure that Setalvad and Anand are not victimised and harassed by the police and the politician. In one of the more recent statements a cross section of intellectuals Irfan Habib, Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Prabhat Patnaik, Vivan Sundaram, Nilima Sheikh, Parthiv Shah, Mihir Bhattacharya, Ram Rahman, Sukumar Muralidharan said: “By way of background, we would like to recall that the Supreme Court has at least twice in past years, made adverse observations about the Gujarat state government’s campaign of vilification against Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand.
The first such instance was in 2004, after elements within the ruling party in Gujarat pressured and in other ways induced a key witness in the Best Bakery case, Zaheera Sheikh, to change her testimony so that charges of obstructing the course of justice and perjury could be brought against Teesta.
A second instance was in 2010-11, when malicious charges of exhuming the bodies of riot victims from their graves were brought and summarily dismissed as absurd by the highest court.
We are shocked at the tone of some of the media coverage, especially in some television news channels. These have made a bonfire of the basic principle of fairness and due process, which is the presumption of innocence. They have also shown more than the usual aversion to understanding issues of complexity, though these are not matters that would challenge more than the average intelligence.”
The interview with Setalvad and Anand is as below:
1. When was this Gulberg trust set up and why?
Survivors of the 2002 carnage at Gulberg society for obvious reasons could not think of living there any longer. They were trying to sell tgeir flats/bungalows at Gulberg but all they were being offered were prices far below the market rates. In this context, in 2007 Sabrang Trust mooted the idea of trying to raise funds to buy off the flats/bungalows at fair narket rates and convert the place into a Resistance Memorial in due course. Members of the society got a surveyor who estimated the total cost of the properties at around Rs.3.5 crore. The housing society passed a resolution approving the idea mooted by Sabrang Trust in late 2007. Sabrang Trust then went about mobilising donations fir the memorial but over 4 years was able to raise only Rs. 4.6 lakh from donors. This amount was a pittance compared to the estimated price of the properties at Gulberg.
2. Is it true that most of the money came from the Gulbarg families? Who else contributed to it?
Not even a rupee of the Rs.4.6 lakh was donated by any member of the housing society nor was it expected from them.
3. Was the money donated for a memorial?
As stated above Rs.4.6 lakh of the donations raised by Sabrang Trust were for the memorial. But Sabrang Trust was simultaneously working on other projects. The trust did receive substantial grants from donor agencies for specific projects other than the memorial. Such grants could only be used for activities spelt out in the agreements signed between the donor agencies and Sabrang Trust. Diverting any amount from such earmarked grants towards the memorial would have been a serious breach of trust.
4. Why was this not set up?
By 2011-12, Sabrang Trust had only managed to raise Rs.4.6 lakh.. Meanwhile, land prices had gone up substantially with the result that the amount raised was hardly 1% of the amount needed to buy the properties at Gulberg.
5. Were the donators/contributors informed and permission taken?
In November 2011, Sabrang Trust informed the Gulberg Housing Society that since it was not able to raise adequate funds, the society members should decide whatever they wished to do with their individual flats/bungalows. Accordingly, the society held a meeting where a resolution was passed that since Sabrang Trust was not able to raise sufficient funds, the members were free to dispose of their individual properties as they liked. It may be noted that the flats/bungalows had throughout remained in the possession of society members. At no stage were they required to, nor did they, hand over possession to Sabrang Trust. Donors were informed that the total donations being highly inadequate, Sabrang Trust was unable to go ahead with the proposed Memorial. A few if the donors wrote back authorising he trustees to utilise their donations (totalling Rs. 4.6 lakh only) for other activities of the trust at the discretion of the trustees. However, till date the entire amount of Rs. 4.6 lakh has been kept unutilised in the trusts bank account and is reflected in the balance sheet of the trust.
6. What exactly are the charges of embezzlement framed against you? Can you list these?
The summary of the alleged embezzlements by Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand are as follows: Between FY 2003-04 and FY 2013-14 (10 years) Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) together received a total amount of Rs. 9.7 crore. It is alleged that 39.5% of this total amount was transferred to the personal accounts of Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand. The break-up of the same according to the figures of the Investigating Officer are:
|Sr No||Particulars||Amount (Rs.)||% of total receipts of Sabrang Trust and CJP||Average (over 10 years) payments/reimbursements per month||Remarks|
|1||Salary/honorarium to Teesta Setalvad||46,91,250||4.8||Around Rs. 39,000 p.m.||The payments to Teesta Setalvad were not as trustee but for her executing projects as per signed agreements with donor agencies.|
|2||Salary/honorarium to Javed Anand||28,34,804||2.9||Around 23,500 p.m.||The payments to Teesta Setalvad were not as trustee but for her executing/administering projects as per signed agreements with donor agencies.|
|3||Reimbursement of shared office expenses to Sabrang Communications and Publishing Pvt. Ltd. (SC&P)||1,69,84,669||17.5||Around Rs. 1,40,000 p.m. OR an average of Rs.70,000 p.m. each for the two trusts.||Formed in 1993, Sabrang Communications was provided rent-free office space (around 700 sq ft carpet area) by Mr. Atul Setalvad, father of Teesta Setalvad. Sabrang Trust was formed in late 1995 but became active only from 2003 onwards. CJP was formed in 2002. Between 1993 and 2002, Sabrang Communications spent lakhs of rupees on office renovation, furniture and fixture, air-conditioning, 12 computers, printers, photocopier, scanners, books and videos etc. It also hired and trained a team of 10 staff members. The trustees of Sabrang Trust and CJP (other than Teesta and Javed) wanted to save on infrastructure and establishment expenses of their respective trusts. Further, the 10 member staff team (excluding Teesta and Javed had been trained in addressing the issue of communalism (Sabrang Communications published the magazine ‘Communalism Combat’). Since communalism was also a principal concern for Sabrang Trust (advocacy and secular education in schools) and CJP (legal intervention), the trustees wishing to save on staff costs also, the two trusts entered into a costs-sharing arrangement with Sabrang Communications (SC). Expenses on staff and office infrastructure were initially incurred by SC and a mutually agreed upon percentage of total expenses incurred by SC was reimbursed reimbursed by Sabrang Trust and CJP. An average monthly expense of Rs. 70,000 over 10 years by each trust on shared staff AND office expenses (electricity, telephone, mobile, internet bills, repair/maintenance/renovation/upgrading of office premise/equipments cannot be considered excessive. Not a rupee was ever charged as rent to either of the trusts, neither Teesta nor Javed benefited even by a rupee through the costs-sharing agreements through frequently reviewed and revised decisions of the other trustees.|
|4||Cash withdrawals||1,08,73,782||11.2||Around Rs. 90,000 p.m., OR an average of Rs. 45,000 p.m. each for the two trusts.||Through his allegation the investigating officer has effectively confirmed that over the years, only 11.2% of the expenses of the trusts were incurred through cash payments, while the remaining 88.8 % was through cheque payments. No organisation in the world can operate without petty cash expenses.|
|5||Reimbursement for expenses through credit card of Teesta Setalvad||26,33,105||2.7||Around Rs. 36,500 p.m. over a 6 year period OR Rs. 18,250 p.m. each for the two trusts.||Teesta has provided documentation to establish that only those expenses pertaining to the activities of Sabrang Trust and CJP were claimed from and reimbursed by the two trusts. No personal expenses incurred through her personal credit card was ever charged to the trusts. The same has also been confirmed by the auditors of Sabrang Trust and auditors of CJP.|
|6||Reimbursement for expenses through credit card of Javed Anand||3,33,016||0.3||Around Rs. 4,600 p.m. over a 6 year period OR Rs. 2,300 p.m. each for the two trusts.||Javed has provided documentation to establish that only those expenses pertaining to the activities of Sabrang Trust and CJP were claimed from and reimbursed by the two trusts. No personal expenses incurred through his personal credit card was ever charged to the trusts. The same has also been confirmed by the auditors of Sabrang Trust and auditors of CJP.|
|7||Total amounts alleged transferred/utilized for personal expenses by Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand||3,85,00,896||39.5|
|8||Total funds received by Sabrang Trust and CJP between FY 2003-04 and FY 2013-14.||9,74,75,100||100|
It is evident that only Sr Nos 1 & 2 are payments to Teesta Setalvad (4.8% of total funds received) and Javed Anand (2.9% of total funds received). The remaining reimbursements and cash withdrawals have in no way been to the benefit of either or both of them.
7. Many of these were investigated and cleared. When? Please elaborate
The FIR to begin with alleged that we had raised huge funds in the name of the Gulberg Memorial, gave nothing to Gulberg society members and transferred huge amounts of the funds raised to our personal accounts. When we challenged this through our affidavit, pointing out that in all only Rs. 4.62 lakh could be raised by us which was highly inadequate, the original allegation has been put on the back burner and the emphasis now is general misappropriation of trust funds.
8. Is it true you paid your credit card expenses with a trust cheque? If yes, how did you make such a mistake?
Details pertaining to reimbursements for expenses on activities of trust are given above. The reimbursement by the trusts for the expenses so incurred were done in one of two ways: (1) Teesta/Javed paid the entire monthly bill; the trusts later issued a reimbursement cheque in the name of Teesta/Javed; (2) The monthly bill was disaggregated into personal expenses, Sabrang Trust expenses and CJP expenses and three separate cheques were issued for a single month’s credit card bill according to expenses. Over the years, our auditors did not have any preference between the two reimbursement options. They only ensured that no expenses of a personal nature were charged to the trusts.