The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the state of Uttar Pradesh for the slow pace of investigation in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, which led to killing of eight people, including farmers and a journalist, while stating that it gives the impression that the state is just dragging its feet.
A Bench led by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, asked Uttar Pradesh to file another status report, while stating that investigations cannot be an unending story and the state must dispel the view that police is dragging its feet about investigation.
Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Uttar Pradesh said, “We have filed the status report on the incident. CJI The CJI said, “We expected this one day before. You have filed it at the last minute. We waited till yesterday night, but received nothing.”
Salve said, “A concern was stated that the state was going soft on the accused, now everybody is arrested and they are in jail. As of today, there are 10 accused inside jail. There were two crimes, one driving into farmers and second, in which a person was lynched.”
The Court noted that out of 44 witnesses, the statement of only four has been recorded so far. To which Salve replied there were two cases registered and in relation to FIR 219, they have arrested 10 persons, out of which four were in police custody.
It prompted the Bench to ask, “What about the other six, you did not seek custody so they were sent to judicial custody. What is the situation in this case?”
The bench asked why statements under Section 164 weren’t recorded? To which Salve said the courts were closed during vacations. Justice Hima Kohli asked whether the criminal courts were also closed during the Dussehra vacations?
AAG Garima Prasad said the crime scene was being reconstructed.
Justice Surya Kant said, “Recording of statements under 164 is different! Its before a judicial magistrate. Its evidentiary value is far better.”
Justice Hima Kohli quipped, “We feel you are dragging your feet. Please dispel that.”
Salve then requested, “List the matter to next week and see where we are at.”
The Court recorded in its order, “Status report filed has been perused. Senior counsels submits that statements will be recorded under 164, and has sought time to take more instructions. Matter to be taken up next on October 26.”
The Supreme Court firstly registered it as a suo motu PIL on October 7, 2021. Later, the Court directed the Registry to convert it into a Public Interest Litigation (Writ Petition Criminal). The Court had directed the State of Uttar Pradesh to file its status report. On October 8, when the matter came up for hearing, Senior Advocate Harish Salve appeared for Uttar Pradesh and apprised the Court about the status of the case.
The Court had pulled up the Uttar Pradesh Police, saying it wasn’t satisfied with the steps taken by the state in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence. The Court directed the police to preserve all evidence in the case. After that, it had adjourned its hearing till October 20.
The CJI said, “The highest police officer must protect the evidence in the case. Why wasn’t the accused arrested immediately? Why are they not treated like any other citizen? The local police has not done the job properly.”
Lakhimpur Kheri case: What has happened so far
On October 9, Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minuster for Home Ajay Mishra Teni, was called for interrogation and after interrogating him for hours, the UP Police arrested him and produced him before a Court next day, which sent him to 14-day judicial custody.
On October 11, he was sent to three-day police remand after UP Police said it wanted to interrogate him about a possible “conspiracy” in the case.
Two more persons have been arrested in the case by SIT, including Ankit Das and Lateef alias Kala. As of now, six persons have been arrested in connection with the Lakhimpur Kheri incident case. Both Ankit and Lateef were produced before a local court on October 14, 2021, wherein they were handed over to police custody for three days.
On October 13, 2021, the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate Chinta Ram rejected the bail applications of Ashish Mishra and his alleged accomplice Ashish Pandey. Police have intensified probe into the Lakhimpur Kheri violence in Uttar Pradesh and sent all four weapons of Ankit Das and Ashish Misra to the forensic lab for ballistics report.