New Delhi: The Yogi Adityanath-led government of Uttar Pradesh Monday rejected the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team’s (SIT) recommendation to challenge the bail granted to Lakhimpur Kheri violence case prime accused Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’. The SIT had made the recommendation on the ground that Mishra could tamper with witnesses, but this was not acceptable to the state.
However, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said the court expected the state to follow the SIT’s suggestion, as the bench reserved its verdict on the petition.
Appearing before a special bench led by the CJI, Uttar Pradesh counsel Mahesh Jethmalani argued that all witnesses were under protection and there was no possibility of tampering. He also said Mishra was not a flight risk and did not indirectly favour cancellation of bail to Mishra. Jethmalani made his submission when the court asked for his stand to a petition seeking cancellation of Mishra’s bail.
Mishra is the prime accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence in which eight persons were killed on 3 October 2021. He was allegedly in the car that mowed down four farmers who were protesting against the now repealed farm laws. In retaliation, the protestors had resorted to violence, killing Mishra’s driver and three more persons.
In February, this year, the Allahabad High Court had granted Mishra bail, after noting that the driver must have driven rashly to save himself from the raging protestors.
Families of the deceased farmers had then approached the top court questioning Mishra’s bail and attacked the HC order, claiming it ignored the police chargesheet that contains detailed allegations against Mishra.
‘Expect you to act on suggestion of SIT’
Jethmalani Monday called the incident grave, but added that at this stage, he cannot comment on whether the violence was intentional or a reckless act.
When asked why the state had not followed the SIT’s advice to challenge the bail granted, Jethmalani submitted that the state did not agree with the reasoning given by the SIT.
“We were asked to file an SLP, but the ground did not appeal to us. SIT said the accused can influence witnesses and tamper with evidence,” Jethmalani added.
He read out from the state’s affidavit filed in response to the petition and said the Uttar Pradesh government had extended protection to 98 witnesses who were also interviewed personally and monitored through CCTVs installed in and around their houses.
“The state wants time to ascertain whether witnesses have been approached. We are calling up each witness to assess the situation, specifically because we have been advised to appeal due to tampering with evidence,” Jethmalani said.
Bail is not meant to be punitive, he said, adding that Mishra is neither a repeat offender nor a flight risk.
To this, the bench remarked, “You say you have given witness protection. Those are not the issues. We constituted a SIT and requested a judge to monitor it. It is such a grave situation. You admit it is grave. We expected you to act on the suggestion of the SIT.”
What troubled the bench was how the high court judge went into the postmortem of victims. “We are hearing a bail matter, we don’t want to prolong it prima facie, and the question is whether bail needs to be cancelled or not. We do not want to entertain nonsense questions like which car, post mortem, etc,” the bench commented.
The court also made remarks against the HC for going into wounds etc and said it was unnecessary for the question of bail. The court was also left surprised when it was told that no victim was heard by the HC before it granted Mishra bail.
Mishra’s lawyer, senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, opposed the petition and the top court could remand the matter back to the HC for a fresh consideration.
Kumar also said if the SC cancels Mishra’s bail, he would have to be in jail till the conclusion of trial. He referred to CCTV records to argue that Mishra was at a different venue, over two kilometers away, from the crime spot at the time of the incident. He also claimed some crucial facts were omitted in the translation of the chargesheet.