Unhappy Supreme Court wants to appoint retired Punjab and Haryana High Court judge to monitor Lakhimpur probe

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Unhappy over the probe into the Lakhimpur Kheri violence in which eight people, including four farmers were killed, the Supreme Court on Monday said it wanted to appoint a retired judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to monitor it till filing of chargesheet in the case.

Asking senior advocate Harish Salve — representing the Uttar Pradesh government — to seek instructions on the issue, a Bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana posted the matter for November 12.

“It (probe) is not going the way we expected,” noted the Bench which also included Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli.

The top court — which had earlier asked the state government to provide protection to witnesses and wondered why there were only a few witnesses in the case where hundreds of farmers were present at the rally — posed several questions regarding the probe.

“The prima facie view we get is that one particular accused is being benefited by recording statements of witnesses in a particular manner…What will happen to investigation then?” it wondered.

Noting that it was not confident about the manner in which evidence was being recorded by the UP SIT, the Bench said it wanted to appoint former Punjab and Haryana High Court Judge Ranjit Singh or Justice RK Jain to oversee the manner in which statements of witnesses were being recorded.

The Bench asked Salve if the Uttar Pradesh government would agree to the appointment of Justice Ranjit Singh for monitoring the SIT probe into the killing of four farmers, death of a journalist and the lynching of three others.

Salve said he would seek instructions and come back on Friday.

The Bench said it was trying to infuse some “fairness, independence and faith in the investigations” into the case.

The top court has already declined to order a CBI probe into the incident, saying the CBI was not the solution to everything.

“We want a retired High Court judge to monitor the probe and filing of separate chargesheets. We want to protect the evidence collected,” said the Bench.

The top court made it clear that both incidents – mowing down of protesting farmers by a speeding SUV and the lynching of the accused allegedly by angry protesters – have to be taken to logical conclusion.

During the hearing, it noted that as per police there were 16 accused in farmer mowing down incident of which three were lynched.

“Why have you seized phone of one accused? Where have you said in the status report that the rest of the accused threw away their mobiles but the police have recovered CDRs,” it asked.

“We have seen the status report. There is nothing in the status report. After the last hearing date, we granted a 10-day adjournment. Lab reports have not come. It is not going the way we expected,” the CJI said.

Salve said it was beyond the control of the state government.

Four farmers were mowed down by an SUV in Lakhimpur Kheri when farmers agitating against farm laws were holding a demonstration against Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya’s visit on October 3. Two BJP workers and a driver were beaten to death allegedly by angry protesters. A local journalist was also killed in the violence.

Ten people, including Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra, have been arrested in the case by an SIT set up by the Uttar Pradesh government.

The Supreme Court had on October 20 asked the Uttar Pradesh SIT to record statements of more witnesses before the magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC to prepare a foolproof case.

“We get the impression that you are dragging your feet…Please do the needful to dispel that,” a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana had told senior advocate Harish Salve, who represented the UP government.

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