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Lakhimpur Kheri violence | Supreme Court quizzes U.P. over dearth of witnesses

A vehicle set ablaze after violence broke out after farmers agitating were allegedly run over by a vehicle in the convoy of a union minister, in Lakhimpur Kheri, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on Tuesday was surprised to find that the Uttar Pradesh Police could only find 23 eyewitnesses to the alleged incident of a Union Minister’s convoy mowing down farmers at a public place in Lakhimpur Kheri where 4,000 to 5,000 people had gathered for a rally to protest the agricultural laws on October 3.

“There were hundreds at the farmers’ rally and only 23 people are witnesses,” Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, leading a three-judge Bench, asked the Uttar Pradesh Government.

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Senior advocate Harish Salve, for Uttar Pradesh, said the “first ring” of people close to the scene of the incident and those who saw the cars and the people inside these vehicles were among the 23.

The Uttar Pradesh Government has filed a second status report on the investigation which said there were 23 eyewitnesses out of a total 68 witnesses. The statements of 30 of them have already been taken before the Magistrate.

‘Overlapping videos’

Mr. Salve said there were also videos on digital media about the incident. There are “overlapping videos”.

Also read: U.P. ‘dragging its feet’ in Lakhimpur Kheri case: Supreme Court

 

“We will receive the exact frames of these videos, which would be certified and sent to us... All that process is going on. Many of the witnesses are formal... No need to take their statements under Section 164 Cr.PC [witness statement before a Magistrate],” Mr. Salve submitted.

Justice Surya Kant, on the Bench, asked the State Government, “is it not your case too there were 4,000 to 5,000 people in that place. They were locals... But even after the incident, they have hesitated to come forward... Is access to these people or their identification going to be a major problem?”

‘Fence-sitters’

“Out of 4,000 and 5,000 people at the place of incident, some would be fence-sitters. They would not be serious witnesses. You need to find people who can stand up and say what they saw...” Justice Kant told the State Government.

Chief Justice Ramana, without spelling out the court’s “apprehension”, indicated that the influence wielded by the accused may spook the witnesses.

Additional Advocate General of Uttar Pradesh Garima Parshad said seven more were arrested late on Monday evening, on the eve of the Supreme Court hearing. Last week, the State had informed the court that 10 accused had been arrested.

Mr. Salve said the State was even willing to share with the court, in a sealed cover, some of the Section 164 statements made by the witnesses so far.

The court said it was the State’s duty to dig out more witnesses who could provide credible statements which would further the police investigation.

“You ask your agency, who can say more than these 23 witnesses... We have an apprehension, you know what that is, don’t you?” the CJI addressed Mr. Salve.

Mr. Salve said there was no doubt that the incident — the killing of the farmers — happened.

“That the incident happened is not an issue,” Mr. Salve said.

The CJI asked if there were any injured witnesses.

Mr. Salve initially said there were only “fatalities”.

“Not even one single injured witness,” the CJI asked again.

Mr. Salve, shortly thereafter, said there were injured witnesses. “I believe there are some injured witnesses. One or two of them have given Section 164 statements,” Mr. Salve said.

In its order, the court directed the State to get more witnesses to come forward with their statements of the incident. The court said the District Judge should ensure that there are enough Judicial Magistrates available to record the statements of the witnesses to avoid any delay.

The Bench ordered forensic laboratories to process the evidence collected without delay.

Protection to witnesses

The court ordered the Uttar Pradesh Government to provide protection to the witnesses though the State said it had already stationed guards and installed CCTVs for the benefits of the witnesses.

The court also sought a separate status report on the probe into the alleged murders of a man, Shyam Sundar, and a journalist, Raman Kashyap. They were allegedly in the cars which ran over the farmers. Uttar Pradesh said the two were killed in the ensuing violence.

The next hearing has been scheduled for November 8.


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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 6:07:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/lakhimpur-violence-supreme-court-directs-up-government-to-grant-protection-to-witnesses/article37172673.ece

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