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Lakhimpur Kheri case: Supreme Court says it looks like police protecting the accused, wants to appoint retd Punjab and Haryana HC judge to oversee probe

A three-judge bench of CJI N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli was hearing the PIL (writ petition criminal) seeking judicial probe into Lakhimpur Kheri incident which has led to death of eight people including farmers and a journalist.

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The Supreme Court expressed its displeasure at the way in which investigation is proceeding in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident and said it wants the investigation should be overseen by a retired judge so as to bring “independence” and “fairness” in the investigation. 

Justice Surya Kant said, “What it appears to us that this SIT is unable maintain a balance in recording of evidences in the FIRs. To ensure that the evidences recorded in FIR 219 independently and recorded in FIR 220 independently and should not overlap. We are going to appoint a retired judge from other State.”

A three-judge bench of CJI N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli was hearing the PIL (writ petition criminal) seeking judicial probe into Lakhimpur Kheri incident which has led to death of eight people including farmers and a journalist. 

The Apex Court said it is not confident about the manner in which the evidence is being recorded by the Uttar Pradesh Special Investigation Team (SIT) and said it wishes to appoint former Punjab and Haryana HC Judge Ranjit Singh to oversee the manner in which witnesses’ statements are being recorded and avoid mixing of the cases.

Only Ashish Mishra’s phone is seized: Supreme Court 

The Supreme Court pointed out that only phone of one accused Ashish Mishra has been sized by the Police. “What about the other accused?” It asked. 

Senior Advocate Harish Salve said there are 8 mobile phones which has been taken away from accused.

CJI asked, Did they not use the mobile phone? 

Salve replied that some of the accused said that they don’t have cellphones but CDRs have been obtained

Justice Hima Kohli said, “Is it your statement that none of the other accused had cellphones on them? Where in the status report you have said that? Are you saying that they have not used the cellphone?” 

Salve replied there is a clinching proof that they were on the spot. The presence of the vehicle is established.

Justice Surya Kant said, prima facie it appears that one particular accused is seeking to be given benefit by overlapping two FIRs, you can appreciate very well the fate of the case. Salve replied during investigation 68 statements have been recorded.

Justice Kant said you have to referred to statements of 68 witnesses. “We are not aware of what they have deposed under Section 164, it is not necessary for us to know this. Some of them were giving evidence about crime but somebody gave statements about the other FIR. The police realises that there are other people in crowd who are trying to protect one accused.” 

CJI N.V. Ramana said that is why it has to be separately investigated. 

Salve said it is being done so. It is not that FIR 219 is not being probed and only FIR 220 is being probed. The FIR 220 is about the public lynching so collecting evidence is a little difficult in that. 

Justice Kant said one set of murder is of the farmers, one set is of journalists and one is of political workers. In the set of political workers, the accused themselves have died. “We are concerned about the murder of farmers, a journalist and a political workers. There are 58 witnesses deposing in favour of the accused persons. Who are the persons involved In the killing of these farmers?” asked Justice Kant. 

Salve said when they come to give statements we have to record, we cannot say we won’t record statements. There were 16 accused and 3 were died in the incident and 13 are arrested. 

Where are CDR records in status report: Supreme Court 

Justice Hima Kohli pointed out and asked where have you said that out of 13, only one mobile from one accused have been seized and all other mobiles were thrown off or not seized? Where have you said CDR has been recorded, in your status report? 

Salve said, maybe the CDR is not mentioned in the report. I will check with them and make sure CDR should be mentioned. I am assuring milord that CDR is there. 

Prima facie, it appears you are protecting accused: Supreme Court 

Justice Kant said what we expect from SIT is those coming to depose in the case of farmers death, this will be an independent exercise and the evidence you are collecting in the other case cannot be used in this. “We are going to appoint a judge to monitor and oversee the investigation till the chargesheet has been filed,” said Justice Kant. 

Salve said there is a mixing of 219 and 220 only in the case of a killing of a journalist. 

CJI replied, “This is why we are saying there should be a independent judge who shall monitor all the investigation.” 

Justice Surya Kant said it is because of the death of this journalist who was beaten to death.

Salve said these farmers and journalist was killed by the vehicles. 

Justice Surya Kant said this is why we are saying there is other story. There should be an independent judge. 

Salve replied, “I will take instructions Milord.”

CBI not the solution to everything: Supreme Court 

The Supreme Court said no to CBI probe into the incident saying CBI is not the solution to everything. “We want a retired HC Judge to monitor the probe and filing of separate chargesheets. We want to protect the evidence collected,” said the bench. 

The Supreme Court has listed the matter on Friday allowing Salve to take instructions with regard to appointment of a former judge to oversee the investigation in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident.

The Court had previously directed the Uttar Pradesh government to provide security to witnesses and gather more information on the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case where a jeep allegedly driven by the son of a BJP leader ran over four farmers on October 3.

The bench had also sought a status report on the probe into the killing of one Shyam Sundar, who was an occupant of one of the vehicles involved in the incident, and Kashyap, allegedly killed in the violence that followed after the vehicle ran over farmers.

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 PIL (Writ Petition Criminal). 

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