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Lakhimpur Kheri tragedy: SC proposes to appoint former HC judge to monitor ongoing probe

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The Supreme Court on Monday proposed to appoint a former High Court judge to monitor the ongoing investigation into the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case where eight persons, including four farmers, were killed during a farmers’ protest. A Bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli expressed dissatisfaction with the Uttar Pradesh Police probe and mixing of witnesses in different FIRs in the Lakhimpur Kheri case.

The investigation is “not going the way we expected”, the Bench said. It asked senior advocate Harish Salve appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government to take instructions from the government on the appointment of a former High Court judge from a different state to oversee the probe and posted the matter for hearing on Friday.

“…to ensure that evidence in FIR 219 (mowing down of farmers by a vehicle) is recorded independently from FIR 220 (lynching of accused) and there is no overlapping and no intermixing, we are inclined to appoint a retired judge of a different High Court to monitor the investigation. Somehow, we are not confident of the state judiciary overseeing… Let a retired judge of different High Court monitor it,” the Bench said. Salve said that he will get instructions from the state government regarding this suggestion of the apex court.

Justice Kant suggested the names of Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain or Justice Ranjit Singh, former judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to oversee the probe. It also declined to hand over the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation saying “the CBI is not the solution to everything”.

During the hearing, the Bench expressed concerns that the case against the prime accused relating to mowing down the farmers being diluted by clubbing the investigation with the counter-case of mob lynching. The Bench said that the investigation in both cases must be separate and the statements of witnesses in both cases must be recorded independently.

The Apex Court observed that the pace of the investigation is not up to the expectation and said that the prima facie view it gets is that one particular accused is benefited by recording statements of witnesses in a particular manner. At the outset, the top court expressed unhappiness over the status report filed by the Uttar Pradesh government in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case, observing there is nothing in the status report apart from saying that more witness has been examined.

The Bench said it had granted the Uttar Pradesh government ten days time and expressed dissatisfaction that the forensic lab reports regarding the video evidence which have not yet come and that the mobile phones of all accused have not been seized. It is not what we have expected, the Bench observed. Salve told the Bench that lab reports will be ready by November 15.

The Court told Salve that only one accused’s phone has been seized and asked have the police seized the cellphone of the other accused. “Only one accused had a mobile phone?” Justice Hima Kohli asked Salve, who in turn replied that some of the accused said that they did not have phones but the CDRs have been obtained.

The accused have thrown away the phones but from their CDRs, their locations are traced, Salve added. Uttar Pradesh government also submitted that the local journalist was crushed by the offending car in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case and not by the farmers.

The journalist was killed, he was earlier thought to be with Ashish Mishra but then it was seen he was crushed by the car along with the farmers, Salve said. Senior Advocate Arun Bharadwaj, appearing for Ruby Devi, the widow of slain BJP worker Shyam Sunder, expressed a lack of confidence in SIT probe and said he was killed in police custody and demanded a CBI investigation.

The Bench, however, said CBI can’t be a solution for everything. The apex court was hearing a case where two lawyers had written a letter to the CJI seeking a high-level judicial inquiry into the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case.

Earlier, the top court had slammed the UP government and said that it was getting an impression that the Uttar Pradesh Police was “dragging its feet” in its investigation. As per reports 13 people, including Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ajay Kumar Mishra ‘Teni’, have been arrested so far in connection with the case.

The top court had said it is “not satisfied” with the action taken by the UP government in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence and also questioned the State on why accused Ashish Mishra was not arrested so far. Ashish Mishra had allegedly mowed down farmers with his car.

Two advocates — Shiv Kumar Tripathi and CS Panda — had sent the letter petition before CJI seeking punishment for politicians allegedly involved in the ghastly incident. The letter had stated, “Having regard to the seriousness of the killing of the farmers at district Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, it is incumbent upon this Court to intervene in the matter as flashed in the press.”

A single-member Commission of Enquiry with headquarters at Lakhimpur Kheri has been constituted to investigate the death of 8 persons in Lakhimpur Kheri. Uttar Pradesh government had appointed retired Allahabad High Court judge Pradeep Kumar Srivastava as a single-member Commission to inquire about the incident and enquiry to be completed within a period of two months. Local farmers accused Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Kumar Mishra ‘Teni’ and his son of the violence that left eight dead, including four farmers a local journalist and others. They were allegedly mowed down by a vehicle which was part of the convoy of the minister in Lakhimpur Kheri in north-central Uttar Pradesh.

Videos are also being circulated on social media where an SUV was seen knocking down protesters from behind. The Minister and his son deny the charges. Ashish Mishra and 20 others have been booked for murder but have not been arrested yet.

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