New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted interim bail to Union Minister Ajay Kumar Mishra’s son Ashish, who faces murder charges in the 2021 Lakhimpur Kheri violence.
A bench of Justices Surya Kant and J.K. Maheshwari said: “It is imperative to balance the rights of the petitioner liberty emanating under Article 21 vis-a-vis the state’s right to ensure a proper trial and safeguard legitimate outcry of the victims of crime.”
Hence, the bench refrained from giving a final opinion on merits to decide whether Mishra was entitled to regular bail at this juncture.
It kept the proceedings pending by issuing interim directions in “furtherance of interest of justice and in a way on an experimental way as to adjudge whether there is any substance in the apprehensions” raised by the state and complainants on Mishra’s ability to influence the trial.
As per the interim directions, Mishra’s bail plea will be valid for eight weeks, subject to him furnishing bail bonds to the trial court’s satisfaction.
The apex court asked Mishra not to “directly or indirectly” influence material witnesses and ordered him to leave Uttar Pradesh within a week of being released on bail.
He shall not stay in UP or the National Capital Region of Delhi during the bail period and shall disclose the place of his residence to the trial court and the police in whose jurisdiction he will reside.
He will also report to the local police station once a week and surrender his passport immediately, the court said.
The judges added that Mishra will not enter UP unless called by the trial court, and any misuse of the bail concession would result in its cancellation.
The apex court also barred Mishra from seeking an adjournment during the trial and warned that any efforts to prolong the trial from the accused would be “taken as a valid ground to cancel his bail”.
The Supreme Court had on 19 January reserved its order on Mishra’s plea for bail.
On 3 October, 2021, eight people were killed in Lakhimpur Kheri district’s Tikunia where violence erupted as farmers were protesting the then Uttar Pradesh deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya’s visit to the area.
The farmers’ agitation was to protest the Centre’s move to introduce three new farm laws, which the agricultural community felt were detrimental to their interest. The laws were later repealed.
Mishra was arrested on 9 October, 2021 for his alleged involvement in the killing of farmers. 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.
According to the Uttar Pradesh Police, four farmers were mowed down by an SUV in which Mishra was seated.
The death reportedly provoked the already-agitated farmers to turn violent and lynch two BJP workers. A journalist also died in this violence. On the orders of the Supreme Court, the case was transferred to a special investigation team for further probe.
The trial court has already framed charges against Mishra and the others, clearing the path for the examination of prosecution evidence.
Mishra had first approached the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court on July 26 last year, but his plea was rejected. Mishra then challenged the high court order in the top court.
In response to the top court’s query on how much time would be taken to complete the trial, the concerned sessions’ judge submitted that a minimum of five years would be needed to conclude the matter. The judge reasoned that the trial would be a time-consuming process because of the long list of witnesses.
The report had prompted the top court bench to observe that an accused should not be incarcerated for an indefinite period unless proven guilty of an offence.
While reserving its order on the plea, the bench had said it was a case of balancing the rights of the parties.
Opposing the bail plea, Additional Advocate General for Uttar Pradesh Garima Prashad had said Mishra was accused of a grave and heinous crime. Granting bail to him would send a wrong message to society.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the complainants, too contended that setting Mishra on bail would send a terrible message.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi argued that his client Mishra had been in custody for more than a year and that it may take the trial court to complete the case in seven to eight years.
He has also questioned the charges, arguing that Mishra was not present at the spot when the alleged incident took place. He was in the area but at a different spot where he was watching a wrestling competition, Rohatgi has contended.
Also read: ‘Dogs keep barking’, says Union minister Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’ after farmers call for his removal