The Supreme Court lashed out at the Uttar Pradesh government on Monday over the report of investigation on the October 3 Lakhimpur Kheri violence. Expressing discontent on the UP government’s report, the apex court noted that the investigation is “not going the way we expected”. A Bench comprising the Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli further said that a former judge of a different High Court will be monitoring the proceedings of the investigation till the charge sheet is filed. The Bench suggested the names of two former judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court – Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain and Justice Ranjit Singh – to oversee the probe.
“We have seen the status report. There is nothing in the status report. After the last hearing date, we granted 10 days adjournment. Lab reports have not come. It is not going the way we expected,” noted CJI Ramana.
The Lakhimpur Kheri incident claimed the lives of as many as eight people. Four among the victims were protesting farmers who were allegedly mowed down by a convoy of vehicles belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ajay Kumar Mishra’s son, Ashish Mishra. The Supreme Court expressed dissatisfaction on why the lab reports regarding the video evidence of the incident were yet to come. It also expressed concern on why the mobile phones of all the accused have not been seized. “Only one accused’s phone has been seized. What about others? Have you not seized? Only one accused had mobile phone?” asked Justice Hima Kohli.
Appearing on behalf of the State of Uttar Pradesh, Senior Advocate Harish Salve assured that the lab reports will be submitted before the court by November 15. He further claimed that most of the accused had thrown away their phones, however, their CDRs have been obtained and the locations have been traced. Over Salve’s defence, Justice Kohli pointed out that in the status report there were no mention on why the mobile phones were missing and whether the CDRs have been traced.
The apex court also stated that it is a matter of deep concern that the case against the prime accused in the attack against the protesting farmers is being diluted by investigating the case along with the counter-case of mob lynching. “Prima facie it appears that one particular accused is seeking to be given benefit by overlapping two FIRs, you can appreciate very well the fate of the case. Now it is being said that there are two FIRs and the evidence collected in one FIR will be used in another. Evidence in FIR 220 is being collected in a way to protect one accused,” observed Justice Surya Kant, adding, “What we except from the SIT is that, as far as witnesses who are coming forward to depose in FIR 219 pertaining to killing of farmers, the recording of their statements, whether under 161 or 164, that will be an independent exercise.”
Advocate Salve defended that the investigation is being done carefully and both the cases are being investigated. “They are being careful, they are not mixing FIR 219 and 220. They are both getting investigated. 220 becomes difficult as that was lynching incident. All CDRs are being collected. Where they were at that time is known,” said Salve.
Earlier, on October 8, the SC had questioned the Uttar Pradesh government for not arresting all the accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case, and had asked for preservation of evidence. “The law must take its course against all accused and the government has to take all remedial steps in this regard to inspire confidence in the investigation of brutal murder of eight persons,” observed the top court.
On October 26, the SC had directed the UP government to provide security to the witnesses and sought report on the death of Shyam Sundar and Kashyap, who were allegedly killed lynched by the angry mob following the killing of the farmers. The court had asked the UP government that the statements of relevant witnesses be recorded by the Judicial Magistrate under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. It questioned why 23 eyewitnesses had been traced out of a gathering of hundreds of protesters.
The SUVs of the son of the BJP MP allegedly mowed down four farmers by convoying through a group protesting the central government’s proposed farm laws. The group of farmers were holding a demonstration against the visit of Uttar Pradesh Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya. Later on, two BJP workers and a driver were allegedly beaten to death by the angry mob. A local journalist was also killed in the violence, allegedly by Ashish Mishra’s car. The Supreme Court will be hearing the case next on November 12.