Unmasking Teesta Setalvad: Here's why her NGO has lost its FCRA registration

The cancellation of FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) registration of Sabrang Trust is big blow to Teesta Setalvad and her secularist patrons and followers, both inside and outside of the country.

Sanjay Singh June 17, 2016 09:44:56 IST
Unmasking Teesta Setalvad: Here's why her NGO has lost its FCRA registration

The cancellation of FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) registration of Sabrang Trust is big blow to Teesta Setalvad and her secularist patrons and followers, both inside and outside of the country. Even the United Nations' human rights experts have urged India to repeal the law restricting civil society access to foreign funding.

Teesta and her husband, Javed Anand — despite their documented acts of omission and commission, siphoning off of money for personal gains — have for long been taken as moving liberalist-secularist mascot. After all, the couple kept wounds of the 2002 Gujarat riots alive and used all possible means under the sun to somehow implicate Narendra Modi and have him under criminal trial for complicity in the riots. However, when charges were levelled against them by the authorities, her backers and sympathisers played the "victim card", made noises of “vendetta” and charged the Modi government of total intolerance towards voices of dissent.

Unmasking Teesta Setalvad Heres why her NGO has lost its FCRA registration

File photo of Teesta Setalvad. AFP

The key question here is — should no action be taken against her? Why does any action by the present government is dubbed as "vendetta" when Teesta has filed cases after cases against Narendra Modi? Should Teesta and her husband be treated differently under the law because they fall in the bracket of so called liberalist-secularist who challenged a "communalist" Narendra Modi's regime in Gujarat?

Based on information received from our sources and scrutiny of various records of the Trust available with Firstpost, the Foreigners division, FCRA wing of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in its order says, prima facie violations of various provisions of FCRA was noticed. An on-site inspection or a raid was conducted of books and accounts and records from 9-11 June 2015 at its Juhu Tara office. On 9 September FCRA registration suspended and issued a showcause notice to Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Aanand. They were given, which MHA as per their request says, a personal hearing on 11 April 2016. On 16 June, the registration was cancelled with "immediate effect".

Consider some of the FCRA violations done by Teesta and Javed Anand —

1. Teesta trust Sabrang made direct payment of around Rs 12 lakh from FCRA designated account to City Bank and Union Bank of India for credit card payments of cards belonging to Teesta and husband Javed Anand. The money as per the MHA order was used purely for personal gains. The foreign contributions went the couple personal expenditure like dining in hotels, food takeaways ordered at residence, cakes and sweets from premium outlets and also on sundry items, sanitary napkins, etc. That was in clear violation of Section 8(1) of FCRA 2010.

2. They spent up to 65 percent of the FCRA amount on administrative expenses, something which is not allowed as per the law.

3. Section 3(1)(B)(H) of FCRA says correspondents, columnists, cartoonists, editor, owners are included under Sabrang Communications and Publishing Private Limited. Teesta and Javed Anand are chief functionaries/Trustees of Sabrang Trust and also work as director, co-editors, printers, publishers of Sabrang communications which published a magazine communalism combat. Both entities functioned from same premises with same set of staff, infrastructure and other resources.

4. It transferred around Rs 2.50 lakh from Sabrang foreign contribution account to domestic account, which is liable to treated as misutilisation of funds.

5. Bulk purchase of sms for propaganda through foreign fund.

6. While Sabrung was registered for “educational and social” purposes, it received and spent substantive amount of foreign contribution under “cultural” head.

7. Even Javed Anand’s international medical policy for attending a Lahore Conference was paid by foreign contribution. Same was the case for his travel related expenses and purchase of books for attending a PUCL conference.

There are reports that Teesta's Sabrang Communications and Publishing, which is not registered under FCRA, received d $290,000 from the US-based Ford Foundation between 2004 and 2014 without the government approval. The Ford Foundation was subsequently put on the watch-list following a Gujarat government complaint that it was interfering in India's "internal affairs" and encouraging Teesta's NGOs to promote "communal disharmony"

Teesta's national or international fame came after she, her husband and some others, formed an NGO "Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP)" in April 2002. The CPJ began to litigate in various courts against the alleged complicity of the Narendra Modi and other persons in authority in Gujarat government. But the zeal to somehow nail Modi and in the process make personal monetary gains (fame in any case by a byproduct) made her stray from the path — use whatever means to achieve those goals.

Though there are cases against her, Gujarat Police can’t arrest her for now because she has got interim protection from Supreme Court where she had filed an appeal after Gujarat High Court rejected her anticipatory bail application.

The charges of misappropriation of funds for personal gains and tutoring witnesses, evening putting up false witnesses against her is long but they are in the legal domains and are still being fought in courts and under scrutiny of relevant authorities.

Consider some of the charges against her, made by her erstwhile associates and findings of Supreme Court monitored SIT.

First to come out against her was Zaheera Sheikh, a girl who for sometime had become face of riot survivor and key witness in Best Bakery case. Zaheera, however, was later charged of perjury.

The big blow for Teesta came in April 2009 when Times of India published a report claiming that the Supreme Court constituted Special Investigation Team (SIT) on Gujarat riot cases had submitted before the Court that Teesta Setalvad had cooked up cases of violence to spice up the incidents. The SIT which is headed by former CBI director, R K Raghavan has said that false witnesses were tutored to give evidence about imaginary incidents by Teesta Setalvad and other NGOs. The SIT charged her of "cooking up macabre tales of killings".

The court was told that 22 witnesses, who had submitted identical affidavits before various courts relating to riot incidents, were questioned by SIT and it was found that the witnesses had not actually witnessed the incidents and they were tutored and the affidavits were handed over to them by Setalvad.

In 2011 Teesta Setalvad's former aide Rais Khan Pathan filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court alleging manipulation of evidence, which were in the form of statements of witnesses, by her in five sensitive post-Godhra riot cases. He alleged that he was employed to convince witnesses to give statements in riot cases, Khan was quoted as saying, "On the basis of hundreds of such false and fabricated affidavits prepared by CJP, the Supreme Court considered to transfer riot cases outside Gujarat."

The worst of all charge which virtually unmasked Teesta came in 2013 when 12 residents of the Gulbarg Society accused her of collecting donations in the name of riot victims but failing to use them for their benefit and sent a legal notice to her. The notice said Setalvad has "collected huge donations from national and international organisations in the name of providing financial assistance for reconstruction of houses or developing the society into a museum…" But despite collecting foreign donation of Rs 63 lakh in the account of CJP and Rs 88 lakh in the account of Sabrang Trust, nothing has been passed on to the members of society. The surviving victims, in a separate letter to the city Police Commissioner, have also sought a ban on the NGO from organising annual event on February 28 as a mark of solidarity to the people who lost their lives during the 2002 riots.

This eventually led to filing of an FIR against her in January 2014 by Ahmedabad Police, a case in which her arrest has been stayed by the Supreme Court.

Now that Modi government has made its big move, cancellation of FCRA license to Sabrang Trust, chocking her major source of funding, her very most visible backers in various echelons have lot more ground cover to protect her from the proverbial long arms of the law.

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