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Thursday, October 21, 2021

CJI Unhappy with steps taken in Lakhimpur incident, asks if other accused in country will be sent ‘invitations’

The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana and including Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, also criticised the make-up of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) in the case, saying it was comprised of “local people”, and that it is the state government’s responsibility to “vindicate the faith reposed in it”.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: October 9, 2021 2:16:52 am
lakhimpur incident newsFarmers with the mortal remains of their family members who were killed during the violence in Lakhimpur Kheri. (PTI Photo)

MAKING ITS displeasure clear, the Supreme Court Friday said it was “not satisfied with the steps taken” by the UP government in the investigation into the deaths of eight persons in Lakhimpur Kheri, including four farmers who were mowed down by a convoy of vehicles including one owned by Union MoS for Home Ajay Mishra.

The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana and including Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, also criticised the make-up of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) in the case, saying it was comprised of “local people”, and that it is the state government’s responsibility to “vindicate the faith reposed in it”.

Responding to Senior Advocate Harish Salve, who appeared for the state and said that Ashish Mishra, the Minister’s son who is alleged to have been driving one of the vehicles, had been summoned for questioning, CJI Ramana said: “This is the opinion of the bench. We expect there is a responsible government…police officers and system. When there is a serious allegation of gunshot injury…will other accused in this country be treated the same way, by sending an invitation?”

The CJI said: “What is the message we are sending?…It’s serious. The way it has to be proceeded, you are not proceeding. It appears only in words and not in action.”

Salve said the police had decided to first summon Ashish Mishra for questioning by serving a notice under CrPC section 161 as the post mortem reports of the deceased showed no gunshot injury, as alleged in the complaint by a farm protester on the basis of which an FIR was registered on murder charges against the Minister’s son.

“I asked them (police), and they said…the post mortem did not show any bullet wounds. That’s why they gave him a (section) 161 notice. If there was a bullet wound, it would have been different,” Salve told the bench.

Salve, however, added that “the manner in which the car was driven, I have to say the (section) 302 (IPC) allegations are possibly true”. “Evidence before us is pretty strong. If evidence is strong, it is a 302 case,” he said.

The senior counsel said: “One thing is very clear…further developments (show that) the young man against whom the allegations are targeted…appears to be (in) a serious problem. We have given him notice. He asked for time. We have asked him to come at 11 am tomorrow. If he does not come, rigour of law will kick in.”

The CJI said: “It’s a very serious problem. That’s why we also did not make any comments yesterday.” Responding to Salve’s comments on gunshot injuries, the CJI remarked: “Is that a ground for the accused?…I don’t want to say anything more”.

Salve said police had found two cartridges. “Maybe he had a bad aim and missed… The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” remarked Justice Kohli.

“They should have done the needful,” said Salve, adding “I’m not saying what.”

Justice Surya Kant remarked that it was a case of murder of eight persons, and the law must take its course and the accused must be arrested. Salve assured the court that “between today and tomorrow, what all has not been done will be done”.

The bench also raised questions on the SIT. “We saw your SIT… All these people are local people…this is what happens if all people are local people,” said the CJI before asking Salve if “any request” has been “made by the state to entrust the matter to CBI”.

Salve replied in the negative, and said the court “may have the matter immediately on reopening, and if necessary, give it to CBI”.

The CJI said: “We hope the state will take necessary steps. Because of the sensitivity of the issue, we are not making any comments.”

However, the CJI went on to say that the “CBI is not the solution…you know…because of persons involved… So find out some other mode.”

The CJI said this did not mean the state should not act. Justice Surya Kant said the “onus is on the state government to take all steps to vindicate the faith reposed in it”.

Salve agreed that “what they have done is not satisfactory”, and assured that what would be done by the next date of hearing, would satisfy the court. Posting the matter for hearing on October 20 after the Navaratri recess, the court asked the state to instruct the police “to take all steps to protect the evidence”.

On Wednesday, the apex court had registered a PIL in the matter on the basis of a letter written by two lawyers, Shiv Kumar Tripathi and C S Nanda, seeking a court-monitored probe in the incident. While it was being heard Thursday, the state government said it would file a report apprising the court on the status of the probe.

Accordingly, UP filed a report which stated that two FIRs had been registered in connection with the incident, and that an SIT under DIG Upendra Agarwal and a judicial commission under Justice (retired) Pradeep Kumar Srivastava had been set up to investigate the case.

The state also said that a petition had been filed in Allahabad High Court, but it had not been listed for hearing yet.

Meanwhile, a counsel who was not appearing in the matter referred to a tweet from the handle of Times Now Thursday, and said it stated that the CJI had met the victims of the incident. Expressing dismay, the bench said: “We respect the media and their independence, but this is not the way.”

The CJI said it was “better to leave it there”, as “in public life we have to take both brickbats and flower bouquets”. Salve said that even those in private life are not spared and added that he too has had to face such tweets.

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