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This article is authored by Nidhi Bajaj, a student of Guru Nanak Dev University, Punjab. The author has presented a timeline of the legal process resorted to in the unfortunate Lakhimpur Kheri incident which led to the death of farmers and left several injured.

Introduction 

This should not become a never-ending story”.-CJI N.V. Ramana

The Prime Minister’s announcement to repeal the three farm laws in the upcoming session of Parliament came on November 19, 2021, after almost a year-long protest by farmers demanding repeal of these controversial legislations. While the announcement has brought much-deserved relief and happiness to the protesting farmers, a lot is yet to be done for dealing with the aftermath.

The Lakhimpur Kheri incident is another blot on the nation’s proud claim of being the world’s largest democracy. Eight people including four farmers lost their lives in the violence that broke out in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri ahead of a visit by Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya on October 3, 2021.

In this article, the author has provided a timeline of events of the unfortunate Lakhimpur Kheri incident and the legal process followed so far.

Details about the incident

October 3, 2021: MoS (Home) Ajay Mishra Teni and UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya were on a visit to inaugurate a few government schemes in Banbirpur village of U.P. Several protesters were blocking the road to restrict their passage in Tikunia village of Lakhimpur Kheri district of U.P. when an SUV, allegedly belonging to Ashish Teni, son of the Ajay Mishra Teni mowed down the peacefully protesting farmers. Two other vehicles that were part of the same convoy also ran over those who had already been thrown to the ground and crushed by the first SUV resulting in death of four farmers. Clashes ensued between the farmers and BJP workers leading to 4 more deaths including 2 BJP workers and a car driver. One local journalist named Raman Kashyap was also killed in the violence. 

October 4, 2021: On Monday, Section 144 of the Cr.P.C. was imposed in the Lakhimpur Kheri district and internet services were also suspended. It was announced by the UP Govt. that a compensation of Rs 45 lakh and Rs 10 lakh will be paid to the families of the deceased farmers and the injured farmers respectively and that a Committee will be formed under the chairmanship of a Retd. Judge for investigating the matter.

Legal process

Letter PIL filed in Allahabad HC

On October 4, 2021, a letter PIL was filed in the Allahabad High Court by Swadesh and Prayag Legal Aid Clinic through Advocate Gaurav Dwivedi seeking a CBI enquiry or an independent judicial enquiry monitored by the Supreme Court or by a special investigating agency in the matter of the death of 8 persons who died in a dreadful massacre at Lakhimpur Kheri. 

Registration of FIR against Ashish Mishra for murder, criminal conspiracy

An FIR was lodged by the UP Police against Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister Ajay Mishra who is accused of allegedly running over the farmers under Sections 302 (murder), 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 279 (rash driving), 338 (grievous hurt), 304-A (death by negligence), 147 (rioting) and 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The FIR registered against Mishra and 15-20 unnamed persons states that the whole incident was premeditated.

Letter to Chief Justice of India by two advocates

In a letter to the Chief Justice of India, advocates Shiv Kumar Tripathi and CS panda wrote that the Lakhimpur Kheri violence has violated the human rights of the peacefully protesting farmers and demanded registration of an FIR and proper investigation in the matter. The letter asked for the institution of a high-level judicial enquiry by the CBI under the supervision of the Supreme Court for investigating the matter. 

Suo-moto cognisance of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident by the Supreme Court

On October 6, 2021, the Hon’ble Supreme Court took suo-moto cognizance of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident and the case was listed before a three-judge bench led by the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana. Justice Suryakant and Justice Hima Kohli are the other judges on the bench. However, on the first day of hearing of the case i.e. In Re: Violence in Lakhimpur Kheri (U.P.) leading to loss of life, the Chief Justice clarified that the case was supposed to be a PIL based on the letter written by the Advocates Shiv Kumar Tripathi and CS Panda seeking action in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident and was incorrectly listed as a suo-moto matter. The Court however proceeded to hear the matter and directed that both the lawyers be present in the hearing. 

Senior Counsel Garima Prashad, AGA of UP submitted to the Court that an FIR has been registered and a Commission of Inquiry has been formed for investigating the matter which will be headed by a retired judge of Allahabad High Court. A grievance was raised by the opposing counsels that the investigation in the case is not being conducted in a proper manner. Describing the incident as extremely unfortunate, the Court ordered that the status report be filed within 24 hours including particulars as to the accused who have been identified and whether they have been arrested. The Court also ordered the government of U.P. to facilitate the medical care of the mother of a 19-year-old farmer who died in the incident. 

Appointment of Retired judge of Allahabad High Court to investigate the matter

The UP government appointed a single-member commission under Retd. Allahabad High Court Judge Pradeep Kumar Shrivastava for conducting an enquiry into the Lakhimpur Kheri incident and the Committee was asked to submit its report within two months.

Issue of summons to primary accused

Summons were issued to the primary accused in the case Ashish Mishra for appearing before the police on October 8. However, they were not complied with by the accused. Thereafter, the summons were again issued to the accused to appear before the police on October 9.

Supreme Court expresses its dissatisfaction with the police probe

On October 8, 2021, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the U.P. police for the undue delay in arresting the main accused of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident. It was submitted by Mr. Harish Salve (Learned Counsel appearing on the behalf of the State of U.P.) that the summons was issued to the accused to appear before the police at 11 a.m. on October 9. The Court expressed its dissatisfaction with the way the police were handling such a serious matter. The Court asked the state, “If you see the FIR, Section 302 is there, is it the same way you treat other accused?”. The Court called the Lakhimpur Kheri incident a brutal murder of 8 people opining that the law must take its course against all the accused. The Court also directed the state to ensure that the evidence and relevant materials of the case are not destroyed.

Arrest of accused

After hours of interrogation by the special investigation team of UP police on October 9, 2021, the primary accused in the case Ashish Mishra was arrested by the police on the grounds of non-cooperation during the interrogation and giving evasive replies. Ashish Pandey (alleged accomplice of Ashish Mishra) and 4 other people named Luvkush, Shekhar Bharti, Ankit Das and Latif were also arrested.

Accused sent in judicial custody

Ashish Mishra, the primary accused in the case was sent to 14-day judicial custody by a local Court in U.P.

Accused sent to police custody

On 11th October 2021, the remand petition for the police custody of the accused was granted by Chief Judicial Magistrate Chintaram. The accused was sent to three-day police custody on the condition that the lawyer of the accused shall remain present during his interrogation.

Bail denied to accused

On October 13, 2021, a U.P. Court presided over by CGM Chintaram rejected the bail applications filed by Ashish Mishra and Ashish Pandey.

Delay in filing status report and recording of witness statements

The Supreme Court criticised the UP Government for its handling of the Lakhimpur matter as statements of only 4 witnesses out of 44 were recorded by the police so far. The Court directed the state to record the statements of the remaining witnesses in the case before a judicial magistrate. Justice Surya Kant told the State, “This statement (164 Cr.P.C.) has more evidentiary value, then why haven’t you recorded them. Statement before police or under 161 Cr.P.C. will not lead to anywhere”. The Court also rebuked the state for the delay in filing the status report as the same was handed over to the Court just before the start of the hearing.

Supreme Court directs recording of statements under Section 164 Cr. P.C and giving protection to witnesses

After perusing the status report, the Court directed the state to expedite the recording of statements of witnesses under Section 164 Cr. P.C and to identify vulnerable witnesses and give protection to them under a proper witness protection program. It was submitted by the state before the Hon’ble Court that the delay in recording the statement was due to the police reconstructing the crime scene. However, the argument did not find favour with the Court as the Court said that both procedures could be conducted simultaneously by different teams. It was also submitted that all the 10 accused have been arrested by the police.

Filing of second status report

The second status report regarding the investigation was filed by the UP government in the Supreme Court. It was submitted that the statement of 30 out of 68 witnesses has been recorded under Section 164 Cr. P.C and that 23 of them were eyewitnesses. The Court directed the expediting of the forensic examination of video recordings. The state was also asked to file separate replies on the investigation on the killing of journalist Raman Kashyap and one Shyam Sundar. 

Appointment of Retd. HC judge to monitor the investigation

On November 8, 2021, the Supreme Court once again said that the investigation in the case is not going as expected. The reasoning for the Court’s stance is as follows:

  • Delay in filing of forensic lab reports regarding the video evidence
  • Non-seizure of mobile phones of all accused
  • Clubbing of investigation in the case at hand with the counter case of mob lynching and concerns that the primary accused was getting benefited by the same

Directions given by the Court

The Court observed that investigation of the two cases (i.e the case relating to the death of farmers due to mowing down by a car and the case of death of BJP workers due to mob lynching) must be conducted separately and independently.

Proposal by Court to appoint a Retd. High Court judge for monitoring the investigation

The Supreme Court proposed the appointment of a retired judge from the High Court of another state for monitoring the investigation in the case to ensure that there is no overlapping of evidence in both cases and the investigation is conducted in a fair and impartial manner. 

Death of journalist due to getting crushed down by a car

It was submitted by the State before the Hon’ble Court that journalist Raman Kashyap died due to being mowed down by the car along with the farmers and not due to lynching, as initially thought.

The demand of CBI Probe

Senior Advocate Arun Bhardwaj, appearing on the behalf of Ms. Ruby Devi (widow of slain BJP worker Shyam Sundar) while expressing the lack of confidence with the SIT probe demanded a CBI investigation. However, the Court turned down the request by saying that ‘CBI can’t be a solution for everything’.

State agrees to the appointment of a retired High Court judge for monitoring the probe

On 15 November 2021, the state expressed its agreement with the Court on the appointment of a retired High Court judge for monitoring the investigation in the case. On the same day, the Court also observed that the SIT constituted by U.P. police needs to be upgraded as it includes mostly officers from the Lakhimpur Kheri region. Therefore, the bench asked the state to circulate the names of IPS officers of UP cadre who do not hail from UP for inclusion in the SIT.

Denial of bail to accused

On 15 November, a district Court of UP rejected the bail applications of accused Ashish Mishra, Ashish Pandey and Luvkush Rana. The bail pleas were turned down after the prosecution presented a case diary, 60 eyewitnesses and ballistic reports of four firearms to establish the involvement of the accused in the crime.

Appointment of Justice R.K Jain, former Punjab and Haryana High Court judge to monitor the investigation

On 17 November 2021, the Supreme Court-appointed Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain, a retired judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to monitor the investigation in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence. The Court said that the investigation by the SIT will be conducted in a time-bound manner and shall be monitored by Justice RK Jain to ensure fairness, transparency and absolute impartiality in the outcome of the investigation.

Reconstitution of SIT 

The Supreme Court reconstituted the SIT constituted by the U.P. police for investigating the Lakhimpur Kheri incident and included three IPS officers in the SIT, namely Mr. SB Shirodkar, Mr. Deepinder Singh and Ms. Padmaja Chauhan. The Court in its order reiterated that “Justice must not only be done but also be seen and perceived to be done”.

Conclusion

Incidents like the one at hand not only violate the rights of individuals and victims involved but also malign the spirit of democracy. In such critical times, it is indeed very important that the sentinels of Justice ensure that the rule of law is upheld and the investigations are conducted in an absolutely fair and impartial manner. It is imperative that the investigation in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident is conducted in an expedited, time-bound and efficient manner and those who are guilty of the violence are met with adequate punishment. It is only then that the rule of law will prevail in the true sense. 

References


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