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Lakhimpur Kheri case | Supreme Court grants Ashish Mishra interim bail ‘initially’ for 8 weeks

SC orders Mr. Mishra to leave UP within a week, and not stay in UP or Delhi during the period of interim bail

January 25, 2023 11:02 am | Updated January 26, 2023 10:47 am IST - NEW DELHI

Ashish Mishra and other accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case, being produced in a court in Lakhimpur. File.

Ashish Mishra and other accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case, being produced in a court in Lakhimpur. File. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted interim bail for eight weeks to Ashish Mishra, son of a Union Minister and prime accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri killings case, even as it described the crime as "ghastly" and "unfortunate".

The court used its suo motu powers to similarly grant interim bail to four undertrial prisoners accused of lynching three men during the violence that broke out immediately after a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) allegedly belonging to Mr. Mishra's convoy mowed down farmers protesting controversial agricultural laws in a rally at Lakhimpur Kheri district in Uttar Pradesh on October 3, 2021.

The FIR registered against these four accused - Gurvinder Singh, Vichitra Singh, Ranjit Singh and Avtar Singh - is seen as a "counter case" filed by the Uttar Pradesh police to provide a "diametrically opposite" narrative to that of the main murder case against Mishra.

Suo motu bail in “counter case”

A Bench of Justices Surya Kant and J.K. Maheswari took suo motu cognisance of the "state" of the four undertrials, calling them "poor farmers". The order to release the four men on interim bail is despite the fact that their bail applications are actually pending before the Allahabad High Court.

The fate of these four men had however come up for discussion during the hearing of Mr. Mishra's bail on January 19, when the case was reserved for orders. The court had reasoned that a refusal to grant "some relief" to the son of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Kumar Mishra may have a ripple-effect on the four undertrials languishing in jail, and they may not get bail “for all time to come”.

Pronouncing the order for the Bench, Justice Kant directed that Mr. Mishra, instead of getting regular bail, should be released on interim bail initially for eight weeks.

Balancing rights

Mr. Mishra was directed to leave Uttar Pradesh within a week so that he posed no danger to witnesses waiting to testify against him in the main murder case. He has also been banned from entering UP during the eight-week period of his interim bail. The court further said he should neither stay in Delhi or UP.

The court said that the interim bail and conditions imposed on Mr. Mishra was an effort to balance the right of the accused to liberty, the right of the State to conduct a fair trial, and the right of the victims to get justice.

The Bench ordered Mr. Mishra to inform the trial court about his place of residence and surrender his passport before it. He was also directed to mark his presence at the local police station of his place of residence.

The court said that he must be present at every date of hearing and seek no adjournments. Any attempt on his part to prolong the trial would result in the cancellation of his bail.

‘Diametrically opposite narratives’

The court refrained from entering into the merits of the main case and the counter case against the four farmers, except to say that only a "scrupulous" trial into the "diametrically opposite" narratives would unravel the real truth.

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, for the victims, had said that four farmers and a journalist were “slaughtered consciously by the son of a powerful man, who himself should have been made an accused in the case for making incendiary remarks in public platforms against protesting farmers just days before the Lakhimpur Kheri incident”.

“A heinous crime has been committed. The Supreme Court had constituted a Special Investigation Team in this case. This is cold-blooded murder and not a case of rash driving. The time an accused spends in jail is not a consideration while examining the question of bail in a heinous crime,” Mr. Dave had submitted.

The Allahabad High Court had earlier rejected Mr. Mishra’s bail application.

‘Melee, not murder’

Senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Siddharth Dave, for Mr. Mishra, said that it was not a case of murder, arguing that a “melee” had happened in which even people in the car which allegedly ran over the victims had been killed. Mr. Mishra had already been incarcerated for a year, they had argued.

The Sessions Judge’s report to the apex court had recently said that the trial would take another five years to complete. Both the main case and the counter case had a total of 400 witnesses lined up to testify.

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