SC raps UP for Lakhimpur inaction

Saturday, 09 October 2021 | PNS | New Delhi

Court asks why prime accused not arrested, orders to preserve evidence

The Supreme Court on Friday slammed the Uttar Pradesh Government over the “lenient” way its police and administration have acted against the persons accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case and wondered if a common man accused in a case of brutal murder would have received such treatment.

Expressing displeasure on the steps taken by the Yogi Government, the court questioned why the prime accused has not been arrested and directed the preservation of evidence. The SC also talked about transferring the probe to another agency, saying “proof of the pudding is in the eating”.

The apex court also expressed unhappiness with the media for wrong reporting in the case and said “somebody is exceeding the limit of freedom of speech.”

Coming down heavily on the State Government, the bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana said, “The law must take its course against all accused and the Government has to take all remedial steps in this regard to inspire confidence” in the investigation of “brutal murder of eight persons”.

Senior lawyer Harish Salve, appearing for the State, assured the bench that “between today and tomorrow whatever is the shortfall (in the probe) will be filled up because the message has gone”.

In its order, the bench said, “The learned counsel explained various steps which have been taken by the State Government and the status report has also been filed to that effect. But we are not satisfied with the actions of the State….The counsel assures us that he will take all necessary steps to satisfy this court on the next date of hearing and he will also consider alternatives of conducting the investigation by any other agency. In view of that we are not inclined to go into details of this aspect. List this matter immediately after the vacation. Meanwhile, the learned counsel assured us that he will communicate to the concerned highest police officer in the State to take all necessary steps to protect the evidence and other materials related to the incident”.

The bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, hoped that the State Government will take “necessary steps because of the sensitivity of the issue”. “We are not making any comments. Secondly, CBI is also not a solution for the reasons, you know the reasons…We are also not interested in the CBI because of the persons who are…So it’s better you find out some other mode. We will take up immediately after the vacation. But that does not mean that they should keep their hand off. They have to do. They must act..,” the bench said.

The top court questioned the soft approach of the police towards the accused (Ashish Mishra) named in the FIR after Salve said that a notice seeking his presence has been sent and he has sought some time. “He was to come today and he has asked for time. We have asked him to show up at 11 a.m. tomorrow. If he does not appear tomorrow, the rigour of the law will be brought into play against him,” Salve said.

“Mr Salve, these are very serious charges. We are not on the merits of whatever it is… If you see the FIR which is filed by the counsel (of UP), this is an offence under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC apart from other sections. Is it the same way we treat other accused in other cases also. We send notice and say please come, please stay..,” the bench quipped.

Salve said he asked the same thing to them and they said that the post mortem report did not show any bullet wound that is why, they give him a notice for appearance under the CrPC and if the bullet wound had been there, then the course would have been different.

The CJI said, “ We expect that there is a responsible Government and responsible police officers and the system, and when there is serious allegation of death (section 302), gunshot injuries, then the question is can the other accused in the country be treated the same way. Please come. Please tell us…”

The police have found two cartridges and it might be a case that the accused had a bad aim and he missed it and this is “extremely serious,” Salve said. The bench retorted: “If it is extremely serious then the way it’s proceeding it seems it is not serious.”

Salve urged the bench to take up the case again on October 18 and assured that by that time, the actions would be taken and as per his instructions, “needful will be done latest by tomorrow morning.” “It appears that it is only in words and not in action,” the bench said, adding, “Mr Salve there is a saying that proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

“What is the message we are sending,” the bench asked, adding that accused is apprehended immediately after registration of a murder case. “I agree and I couldn’t agree more,” said Salve, adding, “What has happened, happened. I am not saying no. I have been assured at the highest level that between today and tomorrow whatever is the shortfall will be filled up because the message has gone.”

The bench then inquired whether any request had been made by the State Government to hand over the case to the CBI. Salve said no such request has been made and this aspect can be dealt by the court. “Please have this on reopening. If you are not satisfied with progress, hand it over to the CBI”. The bench however said a CBI probe was not the solution.              

The bench raised objection to the continuance of the present lot of officers with the probe and said that “because of their conduct we do not see that good investigation will take place”. Second thing is that they should not “completely destroy” the evidence available, the bench orally observed, adding that “by the time some investigative agency takes the case, please tell the DGP to take care of all necessary steps to protect the evidence.”

“I will personally talk to the Home Secretary and the DGP and tell them they have to vindicate this fait. I do not want to say anything more,” Salve responded. The top court posted the matter for hearing on October 20.

Expressing displeasure over a tweet posted by TV Channel Times Now, which falsely claimed that Chief Justice of India had met the kin of victims of Lakhmipur Kheri violence, the Supreme Court said it respects the media and their independence but this is “not at all fair”.              

“We are sorry to observe that somebody is exceeding the limit of freedom of speech. They should verify the facts. These are all false representations which are being done,” said the bench. The issue cropped up when an advocate told the bench that on Thursday, the TV channel had posted a tweet that said the CJI had met the kin of victims of Lakhimpur Kheri incident.

“All of us are at the receiving end of irresponsible tweets. I have seen some about myself also,” said Salve.

“They must have some sense because I was sitting in the court. How can I go to Lucknow and visit the family….Leave it there. We should not bother about these things. In public life, we have to receive..,” the CJI said.

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