“Only 23 Eyewitnesses?” On Farmers’ Killing, Supreme Court Questions UP

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The Uttar Pradesh government had another tough day in court today in the case involving farmers run over in Lakhimpur Kheri earlier this month, allegedly by Union Minister Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra. The Supreme Court, questioning why there were “only 23 eyewitnesses” to the violence on October 3, ordered UP to gather more witnesses and give them protection.

The Supreme Court, in its order, directed the UP government to record statements of more witnesses, repeatedly asking why there were so few when thousands were supposedly present at the spot at the time.

Harish Salve, representing the Uttar Pradesh government, said of 68 witnesses in the case, the statements of 30 had been recorded and 23 were eyewitnesses.

Chief Justice NV Ramana asked: “A huge rally of farmers and only 23 eyewitnesses?” Justice Surya Kant pointed out that there would have been some 4-5,000 people.

Ashish Mishra is accused of running over four farmers during a protest on October 3. Multiple videos show an SUV ramming a group of farmers from behind.

Mr Salve said the UP government had put out ads asked for eyewitnesses and specifically those who had seen who was driving the car.

“Ask your agency to see how many more people than those 23 who can talk about the incident. Who saw something,” said the Chief Justice.

“If there is any difficulty in recording statements and unavailability of judicial officers, then the nearest district judge has to ensure the availability of a substitute,” the court said.

In the previous hearing last week, the UP government was told sternly by the judges to “dispel the feeling that you are dragging your feet” on the case.

The judges had asked why more witnesses had not been questioned by the UP government. “You have recorded the statements of only four witnesses so far out of 44. Why not more?” , Chief Justice Ramana had questioned.

The court had, even then, ordered the UP government to protect and record the statement of all witnesses and said: “This should not be an unending story”.

A total of eight people were killed on October 3 on Lakhimpur Kheri. After the killing of farmers, more were killed in the violence that erupted afterwards. The Supreme Court, on the complaint of the families of BJP workers killed in the violence, asked the UP government for a separate report on the killing of four more persons, including a journalist.

Ashish Mishra was arrested on October 11, three days after the Supreme Court expressed dissatisfaction with the Uttar Pradesh government’s progress in the case.

The Supreme Court had asked the Yogi Adityanath government to list in a status report how many have been arrested over the killing of eight persons and on what charges. In the last hearing, the court was upset about the report being filed “last-minute”.

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