‘In Murder Case Elsewhere, Will Accused Be Asked, Please Come’: SC on Lakhimpur
Bench headed by CJI Ramana said they were not satisfied with actions taken by UP, but made no direct comments.
The Supreme Court on Friday, 8 October, raised serious questions over the Uttar Pradesh police's handling of the Lakhimpur Kheri deaths investigation, but refrained from passing any strong comments or ordering a transfer of the investigation at this time.
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana asked senior advocate Harish Salve, who appeared for the State of Uttar Pradesh:
"This is the view of the bench. We expect there to be a responsible action by the government and the police. When there is a 302 case, in the rest of the country, when there is a case like this, will the accused be asked like this: 'please come'?"
The matter will next be taken up on 18 October, after the apex court's Dussehra holidays, when Salve assured the judges that appropriate remedial action will be taken regarding the investigation.
UP POLICE TRIES TO EXPLAIN LACKADAISICAL ACTION
The hearing began with Salve informing the court about the status report submitted by the UP police in furtherance of the court's instructions on Thursday.
No reasons were specified for why the London-based senior advocate was representing the state authorities rather than Additional Advocate General Garima Prashad, who was also present on the video conferencing hearing.
At the outset, Salve stated that there was a "serious problem" in connection with the "young man" who is the main accused in the case.
He did not name said main accused, Ashish Misra (son of Union Minister of State Ajay Misra Teni) at any point in the hearings, and said he would not make any statements about him which could later be pointed to as prejudice by the investigating agency.
The UP police have given the 'young man' till 11 am on Saturday, 9 October, to appear before them for questioning, Salve informed the court.
CJI Ramana, who is heading the three-judge bench hearing the case, then observed that the case involved serious charges, and asked why stricter action had not yet been taken in the case.
Salve answered that he had asked the same question of the UP police, who had informed him that they had not issued a summons to the main accused at first because the post-mortem reports did not show any bullet wounds on the deceased.
In the FIR lodged on Sunday, 3 October after the deaths of 8 people in Lakhimpur Kheri, one of the allegations against Misra was that he had fired shots at the farmers after exiting his vehicle, which had plowed through several peacefully protesting farmers.
It was at this point that the CJI asked if this approach would be followed anywhere else in the country where a case of murder was being investigated. "When there is a 302 case, in the rest of the country, when there is a case like this, will the accused be asked like this: 'please come'?"
CJI WORRIES ABOUT MESSAGE BEING SENT
The CJI did not accept the reasoning proffered by the UP authorities regarding the lack of gunshot wounds in the post-mortem as a reason for not taking action against the main accused. Justice Hima Kohli responded to Salve's assurances that the matter was being taken seriously, saying "The proof of the pudding is in the eating, Mr Salve."
"I can have no cavil with that," Salve said, adding: "With what has happened so far, they should have done the needful. I can see what Your Lordships have in mind."
"It is not in mind," replied CJI Ramana "It is about the message this is sending."
The judges asked whether there were any pleas for transfer of the case to the CBI. Salve requested the court to wait till the court reopened and seeing how the investigation proceeded before taking a decision on transfer of the case.
CJI Ramana then told Salve to ensure the UP authorities were made to understand how they had failed to go about the investigation properly – but stopped short of passing any direct critical comments.
"Mr Salve we have respect for you and we hope state will take necessary steps. Because of sensitivity of issue, we are making no comments, but they need to know," he said.
In surprisingly stark comments, the CJI also suggested there would be no point to transferring the case to the CBI. "The CBI is also not a solution, for reasons you know. We do not want to say anything, but you know."
Justice Surya Kant, the third judge on the bench, said the onus was on the state government to take remedial action to get the investigation back on track.
However, CJI Ramana observed that this was unlikely if the same officers continued to investigate the matter, and told Salve to pass on instructions to the Director General of Police to protect the evidence in the case:
"The officers who are involved cannot continue. The DGP has to be told to take steps to ensure evidence is protected. Please ask the DGP to ensure that the evidence is protected and not destroyed all in interim by the time another agency takes it over."
Salve assured the court that he would personally look into making sure remedial steps were taken by the time of the next hearing. In its order, the court observed that it was "not satisfied with the actions taken by the State" and said the matter will be listed immediately upon reopening of the court.
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