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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Lakhimpur Kheri: Supreme Court names former HC judge to monitor probe, upgrades SIT

Lakhimpur Kheri violence probe: A bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said that the Justice Jain Commission "will ensure impartiality and independence of the investigation."

By: Express News Service | Lucknow, New Delhi |
Updated: November 18, 2021 2:33:12 am
Indian law, Lakhimpur khri, Priyanka Gandhi, Yogi, UP, UP law and order, UP CM, Indian express, Indian express news, current affairsA vehicle set ablaze after violence broke out after farmers agitating were allegedly run over by a vehicle in the convoy of a union minister, in Lakhimpur Kheri, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (PTI)

STRESSING THAT “in investigating cases like this, justice must not only be done but also be seen and perceived to be done”, the Supreme Court Wednesday appointed retired Punjab and Haryana High Court judge, Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain, to monitor the probe in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident in UP on October 3, when four farm protesters were killed after being hit by a convoy of three vehicles, including one belonging to Union Minister Ajay Mishra.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana also reconstituted and upgraded the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the case by incorporating three IPS officers — S B Shiradkar, Padmaja Chauhan and Preetinder Singh — “to preserve the faith and trust of people in the criminal administration of the justice system”.

Following the Supreme Court order, UP’s Additional Chief Secretary (Home), Awanish Kumar Awasthi, said the state-appointed one-man probe commission of Justice Pradeep Kumar Srivastava, who is a retired judge of the Allahabad High Court, would be dissolved.

Incidentally, the Supreme Court’s appointment came on the day when the UP government’s commission visited the incident site in Lakhimpur Kheri and started its investigation by getting the crime scene recreated.

On November 8, while hearing petitions seeking an independent probe in the matter, the Supreme Court bench had said that it does not want UP to continue with the judicial commission appointed by it.

On Wednesday, while appointing Justice Jain, the Supreme Court bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, said that “to assure full and complete justice to the victims of crime, we are inclined to order that the ongoing investigation be monitored by a retired High Court Judge, who too may not have his roots in the State of Uttar Pradesh”.

It said that the appointment is being done “to ensure transparency, fairness and absolute impartiality in the outcome of the investigation…which is to be conducted in a time-bound manner”.

Reconstituting the SIT, the apex court said: “We are informed that the present SIT predominantly comprises middle level/ subordinate level police officers posted in district Lakhimpur Kheri. It appears to us that in spite of their perceived commitment and sincerity in carrying out the investigation, there may still be a lurking suspicion in respect of the fairness and independence of such an investigation. We, therefore, deem it appropriate to direct re-constitution of the SIT infused with directly recruited IPS officers who do not hail from the state of UP, though are allocated to UP cadre”.

Shiradkar, ADG (Intelligence Headquarters), will head the SIT. Chauhan is an IG-rank officer while Preetinder Singh is a DIG. The UP government had set up a nine-member SIT, headed by DIG Upendra Kumar Agarwal, on October 7.

“The newly constituted SIT shall be free to seek assistance from, and/or associate with or include the local police of Lakhimpur Kheri for taking the ongoing investigation to its logical conclusion under the continuous monitoring of the learned monitoring judge,” the order stated, adding it “shall make all efforts to conclude the investigation expeditiously and file the chargesheet”.

The apex court said that it will hear the matter again on receipt of a status report from the monitoring judge after the chargesheet is filed.

In the violence that followed the October 3 incident, two BJP workers and the driver of one of the vehicles were killed. A journalist was also among those killed at the site. UP Police have arrested 17 persons in the two cases, including the Union Minister’s son Ashish Mishra.

During the hearing on November 8, the apex court had also expressed dissatisfaction over “intermixing” of evidence by those investigating the death of the farmers and the other deaths. It said: “…what appears to us is that this SIT (Special Investigation Team), somehow or the other, is unable to maintain an investigative distance between the cases.”

On November 15, the apex court said that the SIT needed to be upgraded and asked the state to submit names of police officers to be added. The court had taken cognizance of the matter on the basis of letters by two lawyers.

On Wednesday, while making the appointments, the court said that it is “concerned about guaranteeing an impartial, fair, just and thorough investigation into the incident which has resulted in such a tragic loss of lives of protesters as well as some other persons”.

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