SC Again Questions UP Govt’s Attitude In Handling Lakhimpur-Kheri Case

The Supreme Court (SC) has again expressed its dissatisfaction towards the Uttar Pradesh state government’s handling of the case in which farmers were allegedly run over by Union Minister Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra.

Criticizing the poor progress of the state government in the case, Chief Justice of India, NV Ramana said, “We don’t want to add to political overtones. Let a retired (High Court) judge oversee (the case)”.  Mentioning that progress was not going as expected, he said, “There is nothing in the status report except saying that some more witnesses examined. We gave 10 days. The lab reports also have not come. It’s not going the way we expected”.

Previously, the SC had asked the state government to submit a status report listing the arrests made in the case and the charges that were leveled. The judges also said that it seemed two overlapping FIRs were filed with the aim to protect the accused, Ashish Mishra, and that the investigations were not kept separate as they should be.

Eight people were killed on October 3 in Lakhimpur Kheri, run over by the vehicles of the accused. More people died in the violence that erupted since that incident, including BJP workers and a journalist. The SC had asked for a separate report on the killing of four more people including the journalist.

Prime accused Ashish Mishra was arrested on October 11, three days after the SC had expressed dissatisfaction with the Uttar Pradesh government’s progress in the case.

Justice Surya Kant said, “We are sorry to say that prima facie it appears that one particular accused is being given benefits by overlapping two FIRs. One set of murder is of farmers, then there is journalist and there are political workers. There are statements of witnesses that have been recorded that seem to favour the main accused.” He further added that it was being said that there were two FIRs and the evidence collected in one would be used in another.

CJI Ramana said that the two FIRs had to be investigated separately.

Stating that the attempt was to investigate the FIRs separately, Harish Salve who is representing the Uttar Pradesh government in the case, said, “sometimes witnesses are called to talk about one FIR but started talking about incidents of the second FIR.”

He added that the overlap was because of the confusion over journalist Raman Kashyap’s death, whether he was part of Ashish Mishra’s team or not.

Justice Surya Kant said, “To ensure that evidence of the two FIRs has to be recorded separately, we are inclined to appoint a former judge of a different High Court to monitor day-to-day investigation. We don’t want the judge from your state government’s end”.

In the last hearing, the SC had asked why there were “only 23 witnesses” in the case and had ordered the UP government to gather more witnesses. Previously, it had told the government to “dispel the feeling that you are dragging your feet” in the case. This is the third time in recent weeks that the SC has sternly expressed its dissatisfaction with the progress being made in the case.

Multiple videos emerged showing an SUV shockingly running over a group of farmers from behind. Ashish Mishra is the main accused, though both father and son have maintained that they were not present at the site.

Justice Hima Kohli questioned, “You identified only one accused’s phone. What about the others? Only Ashish Mishra. Are you saying none of the other accused had their phones on them?”

Harish Salve replied to the SC, “There are eyewitnesses. There is clinching proof that these accused were at incident site. Through CCTV footage.”

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