18 Sep 2023 9:05 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Monday disbanded a special investigation team (SIT) constituted by it to probe into the October 2021 Lakhimpur Kheri violence that claimed the lives of eight individuals, including four protesting farmers who were allegedly mowed down by a vehicle in the convoy of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ajay Kumar Mishra’s son, Ashish Mishra. The court also relieved...
The Supreme Court on Monday disbanded a special investigation team (SIT) constituted by it to probe into the October 2021 Lakhimpur Kheri violence that claimed the lives of eight individuals, including four protesting farmers who were allegedly mowed down by a vehicle in the convoy of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ajay Kumar Mishra’s son, Ashish Mishra. The court also relieved former Punjab and Haryana High Court judge Rakesh Kumar Jain, who had been appointed to supervise the probe, of his responsibilities.
A bench of Justices Surya Kant and Dipankar Datta was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) that was registered on the court’s own motion after two Uttar Pradesh-based lawyers wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of India seeking an independent inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) with respect to the incident.
During today’s hearing, the bench noted that the special investigation team under the supervision of former judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court Rakesh Kumar Jain completed, in January last year, the investigation in connection with the two first information reports (FIR) filed in the case and subsequently filed charge-sheets. In view of these developments, the bench today pronounced that the mandate of the special investigation team has expired –
“...Since the special investigation team has completed the investigation, submitted charge-sheets, and now the matter is pending before the trial court, it appears to us that special investigation team has become functus officio.”
The court also referred to a letter sent by IPS officer SP Shiradkar, who headed the special investigation team, in July this year. Shiradkar, who is now posted as Lucknow’s police commissioner, pointed out subsequent events in his communication. Taking note of these, the court held –
“…We are satisfied that at this stage, the members of the special investigation team and Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain can be relieved of their responsibilities. It is however clarified that if there arises any necessity to reconstitute the special investigation team or any related issue, an appropriate order shall be passed.”
Uttar Pradesh Additional Advocate-General Garima Prashad appeared in court today on behalf of the state government.
Against the backdrop of the year-long farmers’ protests against the three farm acts introduced by the central government in September 2020, eight people died in the clashes that broke out on October 3 in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri ahead of a visit by UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. The violence erupted in the region after four farmers, who were protesting against Maurya’s visit, and a journalist were allegedly mowed down by an SUV believed to be a part of Ashish Mishra’s convoy. Ashish alias Monu, who was later arrested by the state police on charges of murder and criminal conspiracy, is the son of union minister and Bharatiya Janata Party Lok Sabha member Ajay Kumar Mishra.
In the same month as this incident that triggered nation-wide outrage, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognizance of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence after two lawyers from Uttar Pradesh wrote a letter to the-then chief justice NV Ramana seeking a time-bound probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The court also directed the state government to file a status report within a day, outlining the details of the accused and the action taken against them. After receiving the report, the apex court expressed dissatisfaction with the initial police investigation, raising concerns about the accused not being arrested promptly despite eyewitness statements. On being informed that the police had served the accused Ashish Mishra with summons, the bench questioned the need to issue summons when prompt arrests were made in other murder cases.
Not only this, qualms were also expressed about the composition of the special investigation team constituted by the state government, with the court pointing out that all its members were local officers. In this connection, the court asked the state government whether it was considering transferring the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Senior Advocate Harish Salve, representing the State of Uttar Pradesh, assured the bench that satisfactory steps would be taken, and the possibility of involving an alternative investigating agency would be explored. The bench recorded in its order that Salve would communicate with senior officials of the state police to ensure the preservation of evidence and materials related to the case.
In light of the Supreme Court’s criticism, Ashish Misra, the main accused, was arrested by the UP Police on the next day. He was subsequently denied bail by a local magistrate. Notably, in November 2021, the apex court constituted a special investigation team to handle the case and appointed former Punjab and Haryana High Court judge Rakesh Kumar Jain to monitor the ongoing investigation to ‘ensure transparency, fairness, and absolute impartiality in the outcome’. This SIT, during a subsequent hearing, informed the court that the evidence suggested a planned conspiracy to kill those present during the incident and asked for permission to enhance the charges against the accused, including Ashish Mishra.
In February of last year, Mishra was initially granted bail by the Allahabad High Court, although this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court in April of the same year, following an appeal by the relatives of the farmers who lost their lives in the incident. Noting that the high court had considered irrelevant factors and disregarded pertinent ones in its decision to grant bail, the apex court remanded the bail application to the high court to be considered afresh. In July last year, after re-examining the case, the high court rejected Mishra’s bail plea.
A special leave petition against this high court order is currently being heard by the Supreme Court. A bench headed by Justice Surya Kant granted Mishra interim bail earlier this year, in January, which was later extended in July.
In Re Violence In Lakhimpur Kheri (Uttar Pradesh) Leading To Loss Of Life | Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 426 of 2021