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Lakhimpur Kheri violence: SC directs Uttar Pradesh govt to give security to witnesses

During the hearing Tuesday, the Uttar Pradesh government told the apex court that the statements of 30 people, out of which 23 are eye witnesses, have been recorded so far under Section 164 of the CrPC.

The Supreme Court Tuesday asked the Uttar Pradesh government to provide security to the witnesses in the October 3 Lakhimpur Kheri incident in which four farmers were killed when a vehicle in the convoy of Union minister Ajay Mishra rammed into protesting farmers. Four others, including two BJP workers and a local journalist Raman Kashyap, were also killed in the ensuing violence. The court will hear the matter next on November 8.

For the first time since it started monitoring the investigation in the matter on October 8, the SC bench led by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana 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 the vehicle hit.

The bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, asked forensic laboratories to expedite the processing of the digital data like video clips etc recovered from the witnesses and asked the police to record the statements of some more witnesses who are relevant to the case.

Senior Advocate Harish Salve told the bench  that the Special Investigation Team had recorded the statements of 30 of the 68 witnesses before a judicial magistrate under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

“What we have now is 30 witnesses recorded under 164 and I asked them how many are eye witnesses. Of this, 23 are eye witnesses. A lot of them are formal witnesses which led to recovery etc…so their 164 statements were not taken,” Salve submitted.

But the CJI queried, “Your case or anybody’s case is there were hundreds of farmers going on a rally…And only 23 people are the eyewitnesses?”

Salve explained that these were people who were closer to the scene of the incident and had seen the occupants of the vehicles.

A large number of digital media has also been recovered and that is being processed, he said, adding many are overlapping videos. They have to be certified so that it can be used for corroboration, he said, adding “all that process is going on”.

Justice Surya Kant pointed out that the case of the police is that there was a crowd of 4,000-5,000 people and added they were mostly locals and therefore “identification of these (accused) persons should not be a big problem”.

The CJI remarked that “in these type of cases there is every possibility of…”. Before he could complete, Salve responded “that is why lordships looking into it. I fully understand”.

“Ask your agency, out of the rest of the witnesses, who else can say about the incident. If the eye witness evidence is available, it is more credible than those who say simple present in crowd,” said the CJI. “I already asked them that,” replied Salve.

“Only one apprehension of us is, I think you grasped it already. We are a little concerned about that issue,” said the CJI, without elaborating.

Justice Surya Kant said that “two things can easily be done”. Some of the witnesses, he said, may be fence sitters, some may have just gone there and none of them may turn out to be a serious witness. A serious witness may be the one who has seen it and who will stand by, he said, pointing to the need to have more witnesses.

“Identification is important,” said the CJI.

Salve pointed out that “all 16 accused have been identified”.

The CJI also sought to know if there are any injured witnesses.

Initially, Salve said, “Subject to correction, I don’t think there was any injured witness”. Later on instructions, he added, “I believe one or two of the injured witnesses are also in the (list of those whose) 164 (statement was recorded).”

“If you post after Diwali, digital data will also come by then and we will be in a better position to tell,” said Salve.

The CJI then told Salve that as regards to witness protection, he had read somewhere that they need to apply for witness protection.

But Salve said they have already provided security and that the police had only informed them about the procedure to avail witness protection under which a district judge will pass suitable orders if they apply.

Following this, the bench said that the “state has already taken steps” but it is directing security so that the witnesses don’t have to go through the procedure for applying for witness protection.

Meanwhile, senior advocate Arun Bharadwaj appearing for Shyam Sundar’s wife Rubi Devi told the bench that some of the killers had been identified but were not being arrested.

“My husband Shyan Sundar was also killed…the killers are roaming free, threatening…no arrest, no statements,” said Bharadwaj.

Another counsel also raised the issue of killing of Kashyap.

Salve said these are in the second FIR registered in connection with the incident.

“But are you investigating the matter or not?” asked the CJI.

“Yes” said Salve, adding, “But the trouble is evidence is little difficult to come by.”

The bench then told him “You have to give a separate paragraph on these two cases next time.”

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