Lakhimpur Kheri violence: SC appoints retd justice to monitor probe; what happened so far, why it matters

A Bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli also reconstituted the Special Investigation Team to include three IPS officers

FP Staff November 17, 2021 21:10:18 IST
Lakhimpur Kheri violence: SC appoints retd justice to monitor probe; what happened so far, why it matters

File photo of the burnt down car at Lakhimpur Kheri. News18

The Supreme Court on Wednesday appointed former Punjab and Haryana High Court judge, Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain, to monitor the probe into the Lakhimpur Kheri murders and violence that claimed the lives of eight people.

A Bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli also reconstituted the Special Investigation Team to include three IPS officers.

The appointment of Justice Jain came after the Uttar Pradesh government agreed to the court's proposal to have a retired high court judge monitor the probe. The apex court will hear the matter again after a chargesheet is filed and a status report filed with it by Justice Jain.

At the last hearing on Monday, the Supreme Court said it would confirm which retired judge would be appointed to monitor the investigation after speaking to potential candidates including Justice Jain.

The bench also expressed concerns about the composition of the task force appointed to probe the incident, which saw four protesting farmers and a journalist mowed down by the car of a BJP leader, followed by retaliatory violence in which three BJP workers died.

How many people arrested so far

The police have so far arrested 13 accused, including Union minister of state for home Ajay Mishra's son Ashish Mishra, in connection with the case.

Earlier, too, the top court expressed its dissatisfaction over the steps taken by the Uttar Pradesh government in the "brutal murder" of the eight men. On 8 October, the top court said it was "not satisfied" with the action taken in the violence and also questioned the Uttar Pradesh government regarding the delay in arresting accused Ashish Mishra.

Ashish, who was taken into police remand, has in the meanwhile contracted dengue and was sent to the district jail on Saturday evening for treatment at its healthcare facility, according to police officials.

On Friday, he was taken into two-day police custody along with three others for further interrogation in the case.

SC expresses dissatisfaction over 'mixing up' of evidences

The suggestion to have a retired judge at the helm came after the court expressed its waning confidence on the investigation at the hands of the police.

"The investigation is not going the way we expected. We are here to see that a proper investigation takes place. There is a need to appoint a retired High Court judge to monitor it (investigation) without bias," Chief Justice Ramana said in the previous hearing.

The court had refused to entertain suggestions from some lawyers to order the CBI to take over the investigation from the police. "The CBI is not the solution to everything," it remarked.

"What it appears to us is that this SIT somehow or the other is unable to maintain investigative distance between the cases," said Justice Surya Kant, who is part of a three-judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice.

He added, "To ensure that evidence are recorded independently and there is no overlapping and there is no intermixing of the evidences, we are trying to appoint a retired judge from a different High Court to monitor the investigation on day-to-day basis. We are not confident. We don't want judicial commission appointed by your state to continue."

Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the UP government, agreed to the bench's suggestion and stated that it may appoint a judge from any state. The bench further noted, "The other concern is you have to upgrade the task force, they have to be higher officers. Most officers are in the grade of Sub Inspectors from the Lakhmipur Kheri region," Justice Surya Kant had said.

The bench asked Salve to convey its concerns to forensic labs and experts on preparation of reports on electronic evidence of the incident.

The top court, meanwhile, asked the state government to also file its report on two complaints, including the one related to the lynching of a journalist.

"The state is directed to file separate replies in the cases," the bench had said and fixed the plea for further hearing on 8 November.

Observing that the probe into the Lakhimpur Kheri violence should not be an "unending story", the Supreme Court on 20 October had rapped the government, saying the court was getting the impression that the state police was dragging its feet, and also ordered the protection of witnesses.

With inputs from PTI

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