Lakhimpur Kheri: Supreme Court frowns on UP carnage probe
The Supreme Court on Friday suggested that Union minister Ajay Mishra’s son Ashis, who is yet to be arrested, was receiving preferential treatment and said it was “not satisfied with the steps taken so far by the state government” in investigating the Lakhimpur Kheri carnage.
“When there is a serious allegation of death or gunshot injury, will (all) the accused in this country be treated the same way? Sending notices like, ‘Please, come tell us’?” Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said, alluding to the Uttar Pradesh police merely summoning Ashis instead of arresting him.
The bench, which included Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, said the police investigation was “not serious”, underlined that the officers involved were “local”, and said the probe should be conducted by some other agency to ensure a “fair, free and impartial investigation”.
It added that the CBI could not be relied on in the present case — “for reasons known to you and all of us” — leaving open the possibility that it might consider constituting an independent probe team.
The bench also made it a point to ask the state government to ensure that all the evidence was protected and preserved.
Justice Ramana had turned livid at the outset when Uttar Pradesh additional advocate-general Garima Parshad sought a brief passover saying senior advocate Harish Salve, who was to represent the state government, was busy with some other matter. A passover refers to a brief postponement of proceedings.
After Justice Ramana said no passover would be granted, Salve managed to log in for the virtual hearing.
Salve began his arguments by saying “the young man who is being targeted…” only for the CJI to cut him short saying the charges were very serious.
“We have given him notice; he has to show up at 11am tomorrow,” Salve said about Ashis, alleged to have been in a Thar jeep belonging to his father that had mowed down four protesting farmers and a journalist on Sunday. Ashis has already missed his first summons for questioning on Friday.
Justice Ramana immediately asked: “Mr Salve, is it the same way we treat other accused, too, like sending notices, etc?”
Salve suggested Ashis, also accused of shooting a farmer, had not been arrested because the post-mortem report did not show any bullet wounds. But the bench said this could not be a ground for not taking a murder accused into custody.
Salve too admitted that “the manner in which the car was driven and if the allegations are true — I’m saying if the allegations are true — there is a 302 (murder) case”.
The CJI then said: “This is the opinion of the bench. This is a responsible state government and police, but when there is a serious allegation of death or gunshot injury, will (all) the accused in this country be treated the same way? Sending notices like, ‘Please, come tell us’?”
The bench added: “The way the investigation is proceeding, it seems the police are not serious. Who are the people in the SIT (special investigation team) — you have your DIG, superintendent of police, circle officers, all local people, and this is what happens when all the local people are there.”
When Salve said “action is being taken at the highest level”, Justice Ramana retorted: “Action is only in words here.”
Justice Kohli observed: “Proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
Justice Ramana then asked whether there was any request from the state to transfer the case to the CBI.
“It is entirely in your Lordships’ hands. The state has not made such a request. Please have this matter on reopening (after a weeklong Dussehra vacation). If your Lordships are not satisfied with the progress, then you may hand it over to the CBI,” Salve said.
Justice Ramana said: “We are not making comments. The CBI is not a solution for reasons known to you and all of us. It is better if some other person or agency investigates the matter. We can keep this after vacation and let us see how it progresses.”
“We have to make a pudding which is palatable,” Salve conceded, hinting that some concrete action would be taken.
“I have been assured at the highest level that between today and tomorrow, whatever is the shortfall will be filled up because the message has gone,” he said.
The court, which had turned into a PIL a letter petition from two advocates seeking an independent probe into the Lakhimpur Kheri killings, fixed the next hearing for October 20.
The court’s written order said it had gone through the status report in the Lakhimpur Kheri case “filed on behalf of the state of Uttar Pradesh in compliance of our order dated 07.10.2021”.
“On a perusal of the status report and considering the submissions of learned senior counsel, we wish to observe that we are not satisfied with the steps taken so far by the state government.
“The learned senior counsel has given an assurance to this court that he will talk to the concerned authorities of the state government and ensure that necessary steps be taken keeping in view the concern expressed by this court. Learned senior counsel also assured the court that he will communicate with the state government to get the investigation of the alleged incident conducted by some other agency so that fair, free and impartial investigation is held.
“Learned senior counsel also assured the court that he will communicate with the concerned highest police authorities in the state to protect and preserve the evidence and other material relating to the incident in question.”