The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the Uttar Pradesh police for ‘dragging its feet’ in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case. The top court’s remarks came after statements of only four witnesses were recorded in the case under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Eight people, including four farmers and a journalist, were killed during a farmers’ protest on October 3 after an SUV belonging to a Union minister’s convoy ran over them.
“We think you (UP police) are dragging your feet. Please dispel that impression,” a bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli observed, questioning senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, why the statements of 40 other witnesses were not recorded yet.
Salve informed the apex court that he had submitted a report on the incident in a sealed cover. “A concern was stated that the State was going soft on the accused, now everybody is arrested and they are in jail. As of today, 10 accused are arrested. There are two crimes which were driving into farmers and the other one in which a person was lynched,” he said.
The statements of other witnesses were being recorded, but the courts had shut (due to Dussehra break), Salve added.
The Supreme Court has asked the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the case to get more witnesses to record their statements. The hearing has been adjourned to October 26.
The bench asserted that the SIT must identify the vulnerable witnesses, provide them protection and record their statements under Section 164 CrPC, as it will have more evidentiary value.
‘Until interrogated, you won’t find out’
Questioning the Uttar Pradesh government on why police custody of other accused was not sought, the Bench said, “Until and unless they are interrogated by police, you won’t find out.”
Salve told the Supreme Court that the phones of the accused had been seized and the videos had been sent for forensic examination. “If the forensic reports come, there may not be a need for further questioning,” he added.
This is not the first time the apex court expressed dissatisfaction over the steps taken by the Uttar Pradesh government in the “brutal murder” of eight persons in Lakhimpur Kheri. On October 8, the top court had said it is “not satisfied” with the action taken in the violence and also questioned the Uttar Pradesh government regarding the delay in arresting accused Ashish Mishra.
The law must take its course against all accused, the court had observed and asked the Uttar Pradesh government whether in other murder cases the police issue summons instead of arresting the accused. Not arresting the accused is sending a “wrong message”, the Bench had observed.
Local farmers have blamed Union minister of state for home affairs Ajay Kumar Mishra ‘Teni’ and his son Ashish Mishra for the violence that left eight dead.
Ten people, including Ashish Mishra, have been arrested so far in connection with the case. Ashish Mishra had allegedly mowed down farmers with his car.
Videos are also being circulated on social media where a Mahindra Thar, belonging to the convoy, was seen knocking down protesters from behind. However, the Minister and his son denied the charges.