On Wednesday (20 October), the Supreme Court chastised the Uttar Pradesh government over its handling of the Lakhimpur Kheri case. It said that it was finding it hard to avoid the impression that the state administration is “dragging its feet” in the case.
The incident occurred on 3 October in which nine persons including four farmers died, along with BJP workers which were a part of the convoy of Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra Teni. The protesting farmers accused the minister of mowing down the farmers while the minister accused the protesters of lynching the persons in the convoy; attacking his car with stones etc. that inflicted a fatal head injury on his driver.
The Union Minister’s son is an accused in the case. The incident caused a nation-wide furore and reached the Supreme Court.
A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, upon finding out that only four of the 44 witnesses to the brutal incident had given their statements to the judicial magistrate so far, criticised the government for the delay.
The information was sourced from a status report filed by the government just minutes before the hearing. “You gave the status report at the last minute... How are we supposed to read it? Last night, we waited till 1 o’clock for the material... Nothing. Please file the reports early,” the CJI told the government.
“Why have the statements of only four witnesses been recorded out of 44? Your Special Investigation Team is the best person to know who can be browbeaten,” Justice Surya Kant was quoted as saying by The Hindu.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing the Government of Uttar Pradesh, told the court that the delay in recording the witness statements occurred due to the Dussehra holidays, as the courts remained closed for the festival.
“What is the connection between Dussehra vacation and criminal courts?” Chief Justice Ramana asked Salve. The State’s Additional Advocate-General, Garima Parshad, said that the police had not wasted time and, in the meanwhile, “reconstructed the crime scene”.
Justice Hima Kohli, on the Bench, told the State, “We think you are dragging your feet... Please dispel the impression.”
Chief Justice Ramana asked Parshad, “The reconstruction of the crime is different from recording the Section 164 CrPC statements of witnesses. Our question is why were they not taken all this while?” He further told Salve, “Please tell them to start on the Section 164 statements... ”
The senior lawyer urged the court to adjourn the case to next week, and promised that things would be cleared up by then. He said that in the last hearing on 8 October, the court voiced doubts whether the administration was “going soft” on the accused.
The CJI asked Salve about the number of accused arrested. The latter replied that already 10 accused had been arrested in the case and highlighted that there were two crimes involved- one regarding the running over of farmers and the other concerning the lynching of three people accompanying the minister's convoy. He submitted that the second incident was “more difficult to investigate” as it was a mob that was involved.
The bench observed that the case needed to be bifurcated and said it would first focus on the farmers’ deaths.
The court adjourned the hearing to 26 October, giving time to the state administration to provide more information about their investigation.
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