The Supreme Court on Monday pulled up the Uttar Pradesh government in the Lakhimpur Kheri farmers’ killing case for the third time, saying that prima facie it appears that one accused was given benefit in the two overlapping FIRs — one where protesting farmers were mowed down by a moving and the other of alleged lynching of the accused — in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence incident.
In the hearing that convened two weeks after the previous session, the apex court said it appears the evidence gathered in the lynching FIR was being collected to protect a particular accused.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli asked senior advocate Harish Salve, representing the Uttar Pradesh government, as to why only Ashish Misra’s phone has been seized so far and what about the phones of other accused in the matter?
Did the other accused not use mobile phones?, the bench further queried Salve.
Salve, citing the Uttar Pradesh government’s status report, submitted that some of the accused said they don’t have cell phones, but CDRs have been obtained.
Justice Kohli said, “Is it your statement that none of the other accused had cell phones on them?”
Salve said they have clinching evidence that the accused were there and eyewitnesses have given details of all of them.
Salve submitted that it was already being done and both the FIRs were being probed. He pointed out that FIR 220 is about the public lynching, so collecting evidence is bit difficult.
Justice Kant said: “One set of murder is of the farmers, one set is of journalists, and one is of political worker…”. He added that now a witness in the third set gives a favouring statement for the accused in the first case, which involves the death of farmers.
He added that it was being said that there are two FIRs and the evidence collected in one FIR would be used in another. He further elaborated the evidence in FIR 220, where the mob allegedly lynched the accused who were in the car, is being procured in a way to protect a particular accused.
To Salve’s submission that there is no mix up between the two FIRs, the bench replied, “But it has to be separately investigated…”
Justice Kant said that the court expects from the SIT that those coming to depose in the case of farmers’ death will be an independent exercise and the evidence, which is being collected in the other case, cannot be used in it.
He told Salve that it appears that this SIT is unable to maintain investigative distance between the FIRs. “Whosoever is coming forward, whether they have material evidence or not, they are not bound to record…”, added Justice Kant.
The bench said to ensure that evidence in two FIRs is recorded independently, it is inclined to appoint former judge from a different high court to monitor investigation and recommended the names of two retired judges from the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Salve sought some time to take instructions from the government.
The UP government has been asked to respond to this suggestion on Friday, the day the top court has posted the matter for further hearing.
Earlier, the Supreme Court questioned the UP government on why there were “only 23 eyewitnesses” to the violence on October 3 when thousands were supposedly present at the spot at the time.
The Supreme Court, in its October 26 order, directed the UP government to record statements of more witnesses and give them protection.
The top court had registered a petition based on a letter by two lawyers seeking a probe by the CBI in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence. A total of eight people, including four farmers and a local journalist, apart from the two BJP men and their driver, were killed in the incident. Farmers were allegedly mowed down by a car of Ashish Misra, son of Union Minister of State Ajay Misra Teni.
Eight people, including four farmers and a journalist, were killed on October 3 during a farmers’ protest in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district. An SUV, allegedly belonging to Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra, ran over them.
The Union minister’s son Ashish Mishra is accused of driving the car. Multiple videos show the SUV ramming a group of farmers from behind.
In all,13 people, including prime suspect Ashish Mishra, have so far been arrested in the case.