New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday questioned the Uttar Pradesh government for not recording statements of “vulnerable” witnesses before a magistrate in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, particularly the one related to mowing of farmers by a convoy of three SUVs.
“We think you are dragging your feet. Please dispel that impression,” observed a bench led by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising justices Suryakant and Hima Kohli.
The court made the verbal remarks after perusing a sealed-cover status report filed by the Uttar Pradesh government. At the outset, the bench expressed displeasure over the state submitting the report Wednesday morning.
“We had expected it yesterday and waited for it till late night,” CJI told UP government counsel, senior advocate Harish Salve, whose request to adjourn the matter to Friday was turned down.
Later, the bench asked Salve as to why the police had recorded statements of four out of 44 witnesses under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). “This statement (164 CrPc) has more evidentiary value, then why haven’t you recorded them. Statement before police (or under section 161 of the CrPc) will not lead to anywhere,” opined Justice Suryakant.
Salve claimed the probe related to the killing of farmers was still on and the process to record statements is an ongoing one. He informed the bench the police had recorded two FIRs — one related to the accident-cum-murder case allegedly involving the son of a Union minister and the other in which the crowd reportedly lynched and killed those who were driving the vehicles.
Salve said 10 persons have been arrested in connection with the farmers’ killing incident, of which four are still in police custody.
State has to ‘identify & protect vulnerable witnesses’
Clarifying that it was only concerned with the farmers’ incident, the bench went on to grill Salve and additional advocate general of UP, Garima Parshad, on whether the arrested accused lodged in jail were taken into police custody.
Parshad explained that prior to being sent to jail, the six accused were in police custody for three days. The bench then asked if the police themselves gave up the right to seek their police custody or the court denied them custody.
At this, Salve intervened to say that the six were sent to jail after the police recorded their statements and had received several video clips on the incident. “These footages have been sent for forensic examination and a report is awaited,” he said.
The bench, however, made it clear to Salve that the state has to “identify and protect vulnerable witnesses.” “You are in a better position to ascertain who needs protection. Record their statements and give them protection,” the bench said.
Salve promised to make sure the UP government draws up a witness protection plan in this regard and said he would revert with the developments on the next date of hearing, fixed as 26 October.
The Supreme Court had on 7 October issued notices to the UP government on a PIL filed in connection with the Lakhimpur Kheri violence.
Eight people, including four farmers, two BJP workers, a driver and a journalist, died in the clashes on 3 October, following violence after a convoy of three SUVs — including one allegedly owned by Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’ — hit a group of protesting farmers, and sparked violence.
The top court had on the last hearing come down heavily on the way UP was handling the case. On learning that the state police had issued notices to Ashish, the court had asked the UP government whether it treats the accused in other cases in the same manner.
Consequently, Ashish was arrested a day later when he appeared before the police in response to the notice.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)