The Supreme Court on Wednesday appointed the former Punjab and Haryana High Court judge, Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain, to monitor a time-bound investigation into the Lakhimpur Kheri murders and violence in order to “ensure transparency, fairness and absolute impartiality” in its outcome.
A Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli further reconstituted the Special Investigation Team (SIT) by appointing directly recruited IPS officers S.B. Shiradkar, Padmaja Chauhan and Dr. Preetinder Singh.
The court made it a point to note that Justice Jain “may have no roots in the State of Uttar Pradesh” and the three IPS officers do not hail from the State though they were from the Uttar Pradesh cadre. So far, the SIT was “predominantly” made of subordinate/middle-level police officers from Lakhimpur Kheri itself.
The court said the three senior IPS officers have been hand-picked for the SIT to quell any “lurking suspicion in respect of the fairness and independence of such an investigation”. The overhauling of the SIT was necessary to “preserve the faith and trust of the people in the administration of the criminal justice system”.
The court stated that Justice Jain’s appointment was meant to assure “full and complete justice to the victims of crime”.
“While investigating such offences, justice must not only be done, but also be seen and perceived to be done,” it underscored.
The SIT should spare no effort to reach the truth, including the use of the latest technology in forensic science, it stressed.
October 3 incident
October 3 saw vehicles, allegedly belonging to a convoy of Union Minister and BJP MP Ajay Kumar Mishra, mow down farmers and civilians who were holding a rally at Lakhimpur Kheri as part of an ongoing protest against the Central farm laws. The incident led to violence. Eight people, including four farmers, lost their lives that day. Ashish Mishra, the Minister’s son, is a prime accused in one of the two FIRs registered on the incidents.
In its seven-page order, the court described the deaths at Lakhimpur Kheri as a “tragic loss of lives of protesters as well as some other persons”. It observed that it was “equally concerned about guaranteeing an impartial, fair, just and thorough investigation”.
The State government had agreed to the court’s proposal to have a retired High Court judge monitor the probe.
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 police. The court, in its order, reiterated how it had “disapproved” the slow pace, manner and outcome of the investigation so far.
The court said the newly-constituted SIT, acting under the “continuous monitoring” of Justice Jain, would be free to seek assistance or associate with the local police in the investigation.
“The SIT shall make all efforts to conclude the investigation expeditiously and file the chargesheet,” it directed. It ordered the suo motu case to be listed again after Justice Jain filed his report on the filing of the charge sheet.
No comments on merits of case
The court refrained from making any comments on the merits of the case. “Given the nascent stage of the investigation, we are consciously reluctant to make any observation on the merits of the case, as that would have an impact on the parties involved and influence the prosecuting agency and the courts which would ultimately look into the case,” the order noted.
The court had refused to entertain suggestions from lawyers to order the CBI to take over the investigation from the police. “The CBI is not the solution to everything,” it remarked.