Supreme Court to name ex-HC judge to monitor Lakhimpur Kheri violence probe

Justice Kant said that prima facie the investigation into the case relating to the killing of farmers was to protect 'an accused'

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said that it intends to appoint a former judge from a high court other than the one in Uttar Pradesh (Allahabad high court) to ensure an “independent, impartial and unbiased” investigation into the mowing down of four farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri on October 3 as the court observed the investigation was not proceeding in the way that it expected and that evidence was being collected to protect “an accused” -- in an apparent reference to Ashish Mishra, son of Union minister of state for home Ajay Mishra -- who is a prime accused in the case.

Ruling out any judicial officer from Uttar Pradesh for the role, and also indicating that the monitoring of the SIT probe may be entrusted to a former judge of the Punjab & Haryana high court, Justice Ranjit Singh, who is well versed in criminal matters, a bench comprising Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli said: “It (the investigation) is not going in the way in which we expected. Prima facie what appears is that (the way things are proceeding) one particular accused is sought to be given benefit.”

Chief Justice Ramana said: “We want a proper investigation conducted, which is impartial and unbiased.”

As the court suggested the appointment of a former judge of the Punjab & Haryana high court to monitor the SIT probe, that in the apex court’s opinion was far from taking an independent course, CJI Ramana said “we can’t go on perusing the status reports of the SIT investigation”. The court said it wants to infuse some fairness, independence and faith in the investigations by the SIT.

Justice Kant said that prima facie the investigation into the case relating to the post-October 3 killing of farmers was to protect “an accused”. The matter was posted for hearing on Friday (November 12), giving time to the Uttar Pradesh government to come back with its response to the suggested appointment of a retired high court judge to monitor the SIT investigation.

At one stage, Chief Justice Ramana said the matter can be posted for a hearing on Tuesday (November 9) for the Uttar Pradesh government to come back with its response. However, senior lawyer Harish Salve, who is representing the UP government, wanted more time to speak to the people concerned.

At the outset of the hearing, the court said that there was “noting in the status report” on the SIT investigation into the Lakhimpur Kheri mowing down of farmers submitted by the Uttar Pradesh government.

The court noted that despite its order directing the UP government to pursue the forensic labs to submit reports on the examination of the case material expeditiously, nothing had happened.

CJI Ramana said the court had given 10 days’ time, since the last order on October 28. Mr Salve told the court that the state government can do nothing about it as the reports from the forensic lab will only come on November 15.

The court was intrigued that of all the accused in the case involving the killing of the four farmers, the police had taken possession of the mobile phone of only one accused (Ashish Mishra), and not of the 13 others.

The court wondered if the other 13 accused did not have mobile phones. Realising that the gaps in the investigation were not escaping the court’s scrutiny, Mr Salve said the other accused had thrown away their mobile phones, but the SIT had gathered the call data records of all of them as
it had their mobile numbers.

Reminding Salve that in the initial hearings of the matter, a distinction was made between the investigation into the killing of four farmers on October 3, and the subsequent violence, the court said the way evidence was being recorded it was intermingling and the evidence of the October 3 killing of farmers (FIR No. 219) will be used in the case of subsequent violence (FIR No. 220), and vice versa.

Mr Salve tried to explain, saying that when a person comes forward to get his statement recorded, the SIT can’t turn him back. It is only in the course of the recording of the statement that it emerges whether the matter involves the later violence or the October 3 killing of the farmers.

At this, Justice Kant said: “We are not aware what they have deposed under Section 164, it may not be necessary. You are right when someone comes to record a statement, you (SIT) have to do (that). The question is -- what are your (SIT) efforts towards collecting evidence?”

Once again, the apex court on Monday brushed aside the suggestion to hand over the Lakhimpur Kheri investigation to the CBI, saying that the “CBI is not the solution to everything”.

In the last three hearings, the court had expressed its displeasure over the composition of the SIT, and subsequently it felt the Uttar Pradesh government was dragging its feet in the matter of how the investigation was going on. On Monday too, the tone of the court was no different, as it felt the way the evidence was being recorded was to benefit “an accused”.

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