Updated: October 21, 2021 6:59:55 am
Questioning the Uttar Pradesh government on the status of the probe in the Lakhimpur Kheri case and saying it can’t be an “unending story”, the Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the state to “dispel (the) impression” that it is “dragging its feet” in the case.
“We think you are dragging your feet. So please dispel that impression,” Justice Hima Kohli told Senior Advocate Harish Salve, who appeared for the state and submitted that all the accused in the killing of the farmers have been arrested.
On October 3, a convoy of three vehicles, including one owned by Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra, ploughed into a group of protesting farmers, killing four of them. In the violence that followed, two BJP workers and the driver of one of the vehicles were killed. A journalist was also among those killed. UP Police have so far arrested 10 persons, including the minister’s son Ashish Mishra.
The remarks came as Salve was replying to a query from a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, and also comprising Justice Surya Kant, about the recording of statements of witnesses under Section 164 CrPC.
The state government had filed a status report saying that of 44 witnesses, statements of four have been recorded before a judicial magistrate under Section 164 CrPC.
Referring to this, Justice Surya Kant pointed out that the statement under Section 164 had more evidentiary value and asked Salve, “Your SIT (Special Investigation Team) can recognise who are the most vulnerable witnesses and can be browbeaten. So why statement of four (witnesses) only have been recorded (under Section 164)?”
Case in sharp focus
On October 6, the Supreme Court had taken cognisance of the Lakhimpur Kheri case following a letter by two advocates. The Supreme Court observations come at a time when the Opposition has alleged that the state government is going slow on the investigation.
The senior counsel replied: “I have been told that statements were being recorded and then courts closed” on account of Dussehra. He added that the process will resume.
Expressing surprise over Salve’s statement, Justice Kohli said, “We think you are dragging your feet. So please dispel that impression.”
“Please ask them to take steps to record statements under Section 164,” added the CJI.
At the outset, Salve told the bench that he had filed a status report regarding the investigation in a sealed cover. But the bench responded saying it hadn’t asked for the report in a sealed cover. “We never said anything about sealed covers,” said the bench.
The CJI added that the judges had not got anything till late Tuesday night. “We waited till 1 am last night for any filing. But we received nothing,” the bench said.
Salve referred to concerns expressed by the bench on the previous date of hearing regarding the non-arrest of the accused and said, “A concern was stated that the state was going soft on accused. Now everybody is arrested and they are in jail”. He submitted that “there are two crimes – one where a vehicle was driven into farmers and second, where those who drove the vehicle were lynched”. He added that the second was more difficult to probe as there were many farmer protesters.
The CJI queried if that (the second crime) is the counter FIR.
Salve answered in the affirmative, to which the CJI said both can be segregated and that the court was concerned with the first FIR regarding the death of farmers.
The bench then sought to know how many of those arrested are in police custody and how many in judicial custody. “Because, until or unless they are interrogated, you may not get any information.”
When UP Additional Advocate General Garima Prashad replied four of the accused are in police custody, Justice Surya Kant asked if the other accused were directly sent to judicial custody because the police did not seek their remand or whether they were sent to judicial custody on expiry of their remand.
Prashad explained that police had taken custody of the accused for three days and after that, they were sent to judicial custody as the necessary recoveries, including “several video clips” had been made from them. “So there was no need for more asking,” added Salve.
The CJI observed that the court was making the queries as it cannot be an “unending story”.
Salve urged the bench to grant it one more week to complete the rest of the process.
Adjourning the hearing, the court also asked Salve to make arrangements for witness protection.
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