Ex-HC judge to monitor Lakhimpur Kheri probe till chargesheet is filed, says SC

The Supreme Court on Monday, while expressing dissatisfaction over what it said is the “mixing up” of investigation in the cases relating to the incidents that happened in Lakhimpur Kheri on October 3, proposed to appoint a retired judge to oversee the probe till the chargesheet is filed.

Eight people, including four farmers, were killed in violence during a farmers’ protest in Lakhimpur Kheri. Ten people, including Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra, have been arrested so far in connection with the case.

“What it appears to us is that this SIT (Special Investigation Team) 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 Chief Justice of India N V Ramana.

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…”.

Justice Hima Kohli, who is also part of the Bench, suggested the names of Justice (retired) Ranjit Singh from Punjab and Haryana High Court and J Rakesh Kumar Jain. “Let a former judge monitor everything till the chargesheets are prepared and filed,” he added.

Appearing for the UP government, Senior Advocate Harish Salve said that he will take instructions on the suggestion. “Government can appoint”, Salve told the Bench.

The Bench’s suggestion came after it said that the evidence of some of the witnesses in the case relating to the death of the driver and the two BJP workers were overlapping with the case related to the death of the four farmers.

Salve explained that this was happening because some of the witnesses who had come forward in the case related to the death of the driver and BJP workers were also giving statements about the case involving the death of the farmers. He added that when witnesses come forward saying they want their testimony to be recorded, police cannot say a no to them.

The senior counsel also submitted that the mix-up may have happened because though it was initially suspected that the journalist had died in the violence following the clash, it had later come to light that he was crushed by the vehicles. “Therefore, the investigation had moved to the FIR registered in connection with the death of the farmers,” Salve said.

Justice Surya Kant, however, said that the cause of death of the journalist was “entirely different that it was sought to be presented…the impression sought to be given was that this journalist was beaten to death”.

“They were all crushed by the car,” replied Salve, adding that “the trouble is” that there were thousands of people at the scene and there are political overtones for whatever is happening.

“We don’t want to have any political overtones…,” the CJI said while justifying the court’s suggestion for a retired HC judge to monitor the probe.

At the start of the proceeding, the CJI had told the senior counsel that there is “nothing in the status report except that it said that some more witnesses were examined” and that the “lab reports (had) not come yet”.

“It is beyond our control…They have said they will give by November 15,” Salve had responded. The Bench then quizzed him on the seizure of phones of the accused and wondered as to why only the phone of key accused Ashish Mishra had been seized.

“What about the other mobile phones?” asked Justice Kohli. “Some of the accused have said they don’t have a cell phone. But their call data records have all been obtained,” Salve said.

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