The Uttar Pradesh government on Monday agreed to the Supreme Court’s suggestion to appoint a retired judge to monitor the investigation into the Lakhimpur Kheri murders and violence.
The cases concern a convoy, allegedly belonging to Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra, ploughing into a group of farmers and civilians protesting the controversial agricultural laws and the ensuing violence at Lakhimpur Kheri district. Minister’s son Ashish Mishra is a prime accused in the case concerning the farmers’ deaths.
“We leave it to Your Lordships... You may appoint whoever you want,” senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for U.P., submitted before a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana.
The Bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, after a briefly conferring among themselves, said it needed a day to zero in on the judge.
“We are considering former Punjab and Haryana HC Judge Rakesh Kumar Jain or others. We have to consult them,” the court said.
Mr. Salve stated that the government had left it to the wisdom of the court. However, he made a suggestion. He made a point that the court’s choice of a retired judge should not rest on whether he or she was from the State or outside.
“You mean it can be from any State...” the court sought to clarify from him.
Mr. Salve explained that the focus should be on the person, the judge, whether or not from or outside the State. “It should be just that Your Lordships are appointing a person...” he offered.
The Bench indicated that it may consider either a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge willing to take up the assignment.
The court further asked the government to provide it with a list of names of direct IPS officers of U.P. cadre, but who were not native to the State to be considered for inclusion in the task force.
It noted that some of the members of the present task force were of sub-inspector level or drawn from the Lakhimpur Kheri police station itself.
Mr. Salve interjected that a senior police officer had been recently appointed to the task force.
But the court said the task force needed to be upgraded. It asked the government to provide the list by November 16. It posted the case next for November 17.
The suggestion from the court to have a retired judge at the helm came after it expressed its waning confidence about the fate of the investigation at the hands of the State police. It observed that such a step may be necessary to “infuse fairness and impartiality” in the probe.
In an earlier hearing, the CJI stated, “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”.
The court had refused to entertain suggestions from lawyers to order the CBI to take over from the police. “The CBI is not the solution to everything,” it said.