Overlapping interests: On U.P. Police probe into Lakhimpur Kheri violence

The Supreme Court of India continues to question the tardy progress in the ongoing probe into the October 3 violence during a farmers’ protest at Tikonia in Lakhimpur-Kheri district, a situation that reflects poorly on the Uttar Pradesh police and administration. In its latest expression of dissatisfaction, the Court has indicated that it would like a retired High Court judge to monitor the investigation and has sought the State government’s response. The Court’s apprehensions are not without basis. A large number of witnesses coming forward ostensibly to help the police have ended up giving “exculpatory evidence”, that is, their statements are in favour of some suspects. Another source of doubt about the fairness of the probe is that an overlap is being sought to be created between two FIRs registered in relation to the incidents: one relating to the mowing down of four farmers and a journalist covering the event by vehicles suspected to be part of the convoy of Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister Ajay Mishra; and another concerning retaliatory violence by the crowd, in which three persons were killed. Counsel for the State government has confirmed at the latest hearing that Raman Kashyap, reporting for a television channel, was indeed run over by a car, with the Court pointing out that an impression was sought to be given earlier that he was lynched by the mob. The idea of having a retired judge to monitor the probe seems to be prompted by the Court’s keenness to ensure that the two crimes are not mixed up.

It would be in the public interest to have a judicial mind monitoring the probe. It would also have a salutary effect on the investigation as a precautionary measure against any attempt to dilute or derail the case. It is noteworthy that the judges on the Bench appear to think that some of the developments redound to the benefit of a particular accused. It seems to be an oblique reference to the influential Ashish Mishra. Such an impression will persist as long as the probe seems tardy, and the gathering of evidence is marshalled towards exonerating someone. Both the Union government and the ruling BJP are silent on the continuance of the suspect’s father as a Union Minister, a factor that casts a shadow on the investigation. The Court is also not inclined to hand over the probe to the CBI, and is possibly right in holding that view. Recording the statements of witnesses before a judicial magistrate, certifying the electronic evidence available so far, and piecing together the evidence to make a strong case for the prosecution may be a time-consuming job, but what is expected of the State police is not a herculean task. There can be no excuse for allowing the fairness of the probe to come under a shadow of doubt.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 6:04:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/overlapping-interests-the-hindu-editorial-on-up-police-probe-into-lakhimpur-kheri-violence/article37407588.ece

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