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Lakhimpur Kheri : SC directs UP govt to protect massacre witnesses

The apex court asked why the number of eyewitness statements was just 23 when the gathering had '4,000 or 5,000' people
Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India
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R. Balaji   |   New Delhi   |   Published 27.10.21, 01:38 AM

The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Uttar Pradesh government to provide protection to the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre witnesses while asking why the number of eyewitness statements was just 23 when the gathering had “4,000 or 5,000” people.

It said the witnesses should be protected under the “Witness Protection Scheme 2018”.

The scheme entitles vulnerable witnesses to police guards and escorts, patrolling in front of their homes, round-the-clock CCTV surveillance, pseudonyms to protect their identity, appearance at in-camera proceedings or through video links, and avoidance of face-to-face contact with the accused.

This apart, the witnesses are entitled to financial aid from the witness protection fund and confidentiality of all their records relating to the case.

The bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli also sought an additional status report on the murders of BJP worker Shyam Sundar Nishad and journalist Raman Kashyap after lawyers representing their families expressed reservations about the investigations.

A convoy of SUVs allegedly led by Union minister Ajay Mishra Teni’s son Ashis Mishra mowed down four protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri on October 3 while a driver and two BJP workers, including Shyam Sundar, were lynched in retaliatory violence. Kashyap, covering the farmers’ protest, was also killed amid contradictory claims about whether he was run over or lynched.

Justice Ramana expressed surprise that the statements of only 30 witnesses — of whom 23 are purported eyewitnesses — had been recorded so far.

“There were hundreds at the farmers’ rally and only 23 people are witnesses?” he asked senior advocate Harish Salve, representing the Uttar Pradesh government, and additional advocate-general Garima Parshad.

Justice Kant remarked: “You said there were 4,000 or 5,000 people. Mostly they were locals. Post-incident, most of them have been agitating for an inquiry. Accessibility and identification of such persons in the vehicle should not be a great issue.”

Justice Ramana directed the state government to have the statements of more witnesses recorded before a magistrate.

The court also expressed concern about “the delay in getting all the reports by the state government from the forensic laboratories”.

It directed the state “to make a request to the concerned forensic laboratories to provide all the reports to it as early as possible”.

Senior advocate Arun Bhardwaj, appearing for Nishad’s wife Ruby Devi, said her husband was killed in the violence but the police had refused to register an FIR till now. Instead, she and her family members were being threatened, she said.

Salve promised to look into the matter. He said the deceased was also an accused in the FIR filed for the killing of the farmers.

On Tuesday, the Uttar Pradesh police arrested two farmers over the retaliatory lynchings. Ashis and 12 associates had earlier been arrested in connection with the killing of farmers.

Harshvir Pratap Sharma, counsel for the family of Kashyap, too demanded clarity about the investigations into the journalist’s death.

The bench sought an additional status report and fixed the next hearing for November 8.

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