It might take at least five years in the normal course to conclude the trial in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case, a sessions judge conducting the trial in the case in which Union minister Ajay Kumar Mishra's son is one of the accused, informed the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
In a report submitted to the apex court, the additional sessions judge said there are 208 witnesses, 171 documents and 27 forensic science laboratory (FSL) reports in the case.
The top court had last month asked the sessions court how much time in normal course was it likely to take to conclude the trial, without compromising with the schedule of other pending or prioritised matters.
"The report says it will take at least five years. It says there are 208 witnesses, 171 documents and 27 FSL reports," said a bench of Justices Surya Kant and V Ramasubramanian while referring to the report received from the trial court judge.
"He (sessions judge) says in normal course, it may take five years," observed the bench, which is hearing a plea by Ashish Mishra seeking bail in the case of mowing down of protesting farmers in October 2021 in Lakhimpur Kheri.
During the hearing, the bench asked the counsel appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government to confirm whether the four accused in a separate case lodged over the killing of three occupants of the SUV, which allegedly mowed down four farmers in the incident, are still in custody.
At the outset, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the complainant in the case of the killing of farmers, requested the bench to post the hearing for some other day, saying senior advocate Dushyant Dave who is leading him in the matter is unwell.
The bench inquired from the state's counsel about the status of the separate case lodged over the killing of three occupants of the SUV, which allegedly mowed down farmers.
The counsel said charges have been framed against the accused in that matter.
"We just want to know if there are accused in that case who have been arrested?" the bench asked. The state's counsel said four accused were arrested in the case.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Ashish Mishra, told the bench that the trial judge has sent a report to the apex court.
When the bench said as per the report of the additional sessions judge, it may take at least five years in the normal course to conclude the trial, Bhushan said material witnesses can be examined first.
"The problem is the report says when the case was fixed for examination of prosecution witnesses, one of the material witnesses was to be examined but he got fever and was unwell on that day...These practical difficulties may arise," the bench pointed out.
It said if the trial in the case is asked to be speeded up, it will have to be done at the cost of all other cases pending in that court.
Bhushan said day-to-day trial is needed in this case being probed by a special investigation team.
When he alleged that some witnesses were attacked and beaten up, Rohatgi shot back, saying: "This is completely false." "What we need is, how many persons were arrested in FIR no.220/2021 (separate case) and are they still in custody," the bench observed and asked the state to apprise it about the particulars of those arrested in that case.
Rohatgi said, "It is our case. Our case is that our convoy was attacked...It is a case of mob violence. People were pulled out of our vehicle and three of them were killed." The bench observed that ultimately, the larger interest and larger issue will have to be kept in mind and fixation of time sometimes can create serious prejudice to the prosecution's case.
Bhushan, while arguing that the accused in the case of mowing down of farmers are influential, suggested the apex court can ask the trial court to hold day-to-day trial and examine material witnesses first.
He said the complainant has annexed the charge sheet of the case in the counter affidavit filed in the apex court.
The bench posted the matter for further hearing on January 19.
On October 3, 2021, eight people were killed in Tikunia in Lakhimpur Kheri district during violence that erupted when farmers were protesting against the then Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya's visit to the area.
Four farmers were mowed down by an SUV in which Ashish Mishra was seated, according to the Uttar Pradesh Police FIR.
Following the incident, the driver and two BJP workers were allegedly lynched by angry farmers. A journalist also died in the violence.
On December 6 last year, the trial court had framed charges against Ashish Mishra and 12 others for the alleged offences of murder, criminal conspiracy and others in the case of death of the protesting farmers in October 2021 in Lakhimpur Kheri, paving the way for the start of the trial.
A total of 13 accused, including Ashish Mishra, have been charged under IPC sections 147 and 148 related to rioting, 149 (unlawful assembly), 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 427 (mischief) and 120B (punishment for criminal conspiracy), and section 177 of the Motor Vehicle Act.
The other 12 accused are Ankit Das, Nandan Singh Bisht, Latif Kale, Satyam alias Satya Prakash Tripathi, Shekhar Bharti, Sumit Jaiswal, Ashish Pandey, Lavkush Rana, Shishu Pal, Ullas Kumar alias Mohit Trivedi, Rinku Rana and Dharmendra Banjara.
All of them are in jail.
While hearing the matter on December 12 last year, the apex court had asked the state government, which opposed the bail plea of Ashish Mishra terming the offence as "very grave", to file an affidavit with regard to the status of the case lodged over the killing of three occupants of the SUV.
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