SC wants retired HC judge to monitor Lakhimpur Kheri probe

Son of Union Minister Ajay Mishra, Ashish Mishra is an accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Uttar Pradesh government’s response to a proposal to appoint a retired High Court judge, possibly who served outside the State, to monitor the probe into the Lakhimpur Kheri murders and violence

The court highlighted an urgent need to “infuse fairness and impartiality” into the probe.

“The investigation is not going the way we expected... We are here to see that a proper investigation takes place. There is a need to appoint a retired High Court judge to monitor it [investigation] without bias,” Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana, heading a Bench also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, observed.

Justice Kant said the retired High Court judge could independently monitor the probe till charge sheets were filed.

Watch: What happened in Lakhimpur Kheri? | In Focus podcast

The court refused to entertain suggestions from some lawyers to order the CBI to take over from the State police. “The CBI is not the solution to everything,” Justice Kant remarked.

Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Mishra, is a prime accused.

The suggestion to have a retired judge at the helm came after the court expressed its waning confidence about the fate of the investigation at the hands of the State police.

After more than a month since the Union Minister’s convoy mowed down farmers

attending a rally in Lakhimpur Kheri protesting the agricultural laws on October 3, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the State has still not got hold of the forensic lab reports.

“The lab reports are expected on November 15... We are following up regularly,” senior advocate Harish Salve, for the State government, assured.

Only one mobile seized

The court noted that the SIT had seized only one mobile phone from the 13 accused persons in the case. Movement of the accused at the time of the incident could be tracked from their phones.

Mr. Salve responded, “Some accused said they do not have phones.”

Justice Kohli asked, “Is it your statement then that none of the others have mobile phones?”

Mr. Salve explained that accused at times threw away their phones and claimed they do not have one.

The court pointed out how the call detail records of the accused persons’ phones were not specifically listed as part of evidence in the status report. Moreover, videos showing the cars in the convoy running over the farmers were yet to be certified for use as evidence in the trial.

Mr. Salve agreed that the videos, once certified, would be a “clinching proof” of the presence of the accused at the crime scene.

Many “eyewitnesses”

But what piqued the court’s interest on Monday was the number of “eyewitnesses” who had come forward to depose in support of the accused in the case of the murders of the farmers.

The senior lawyer stated that these 56 people had come forward saying they wanted to record their statements about the lynching of two local BJP workers and the driver of one of the convoy cars. “But when the police start recording their statements, they made exculpatory statements in support of the accused in the farmers’ death case,” he said.

The SIT is separately investigating the deaths of the farmers and the subsequent incidents of violence and lynching orchestrated by a mob of angry locals. Two separate FIRs have been registered.

On Monday, the Bench observed that concerted efforts were on to blur the lines between the two cases.

“The two FIRs are now overlapping and one particular accused is getting all the benefit out of this... If this goes on, you know better than us what will be the fate of the case... The police have to distinguish between what is relevant and what is not in a case... That is the fine art of investigation,” Justice Kant addressed Mr. Salve, who contended that the police cannot refuse to record statements when people come forward to offer them. “We are being very careful.”

However, the court continued to be sceptical.

Overlapping of two cases

The CJI said, “It is to ensure there is no overlapping of the two cases that we want a retired High Court judge to monitor and ensure they are treated separetely... We are not confident about your enquiry...”.

At one point, Mr. Salve stated that how a wrong impression was sent out that a journalist, Raman Kashyap, was lynched by the mob because he was part of the convoy.

However, evidence had come forth that he was, in fact, run over along with the farmers.

Justice Kant said, “Exactly... This is the reason why we want a judge to independently monitor the investigation... You see how a wrong impression was sent about the circumstances of the death of poor journalist...” .

Mr. Salve agreed to seek instructions from the government on the court’s suggestion.

The case has been posted to Friday.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 6:12:46 AM |

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