The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Uttar Pradesh government to provide protection to the witnesses in the October 3 violence in Lakhimpur Kheri where eight persons, including four farmers, were killed during a farmers’ protest.
A Bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli further directed the Uttar Pradesh police to expedite recording of eye-witnesses’ statements before a judicial magistrate and to also speed up forensic reports of video evidence.
Directing that the statement of relevant witnesses be recorded by the Judicial Magistrate under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the apex court said that if there is any difficulty in the recording of the witness statements due to the unavailability of Magistrate, the District Judge concerned has to ensure that the statements can be recorded by the nearest available Magistrate.
Today, the Uttar Pradesh government has filed its second status report regarding the investigation. Senior advocate Harish Salve appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government told the Bench that statements of 30 out of the 68 witnesses have been recorded under Section 164 and 23 of them are eye-witnesses.
To this, the Bench asked how only 23 eyewitnesses have been traced out of a gathering of hundreds of protesters. “Your case and others case is that there were hundreds of farmers… out of them only 23 witnesses?” asked Chief Justice Ramana.
The Bench told Salve, “Ask your agency, see there are more than 23 witnesses. Eye witness evidence is more credible. It is always better to have first-hand evidence.”
To this Salve asked CJI if he can show some of the statements of witnesses recorded under Section 164, in a sealed cover.
Salve also told the apex court that an advertisement was given inviting people to come forward to give evidence and that several digital video evidence have been recovered.
The top court then asked the Uttar Pradesh government to expedite the forensic examination or it will give directions to laboratories to expedite the report.
The Bench also asked the state government to file separate replies on an investigation on the killing of a journalist Raman Kashyap and one Shyam Sundar in the Lakhimpur incident. The Bench now posted the matter for hearing on November 8. The apex court was hearing a case where two lawyers had written a letter to the CJI seeking a high-level judicial inquiry into the incident.
On the last hearing, the Bench had slammed the Uttar Pradesh government and said that it was getting an impression that the Uttar Pradesh Police was “dragging its feet” in its investigation. The observation of the apex court had come after noting that the statements of only four witnesses have been recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC. It had asked the SIT probing the case to record statements of other witnesses also.
The Bench had also pointed out that the Special Investigation Team will have to identify the vulnerable witnesses and provide them protection and record their statements under Section 164 CrPC, as it will have more evidentiary value.
On October 8, the top court had expressed dissatisfaction over the steps taken by the Uttar Pradesh government in the killing of eight persons. As per reports 13 people, including Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ajay Kumar Mishra ‘Teni’, have been arrested so far in connection with the case.
A single-member Commission of Enquiry with headquarters at Lakhimpur Kheri has been constituted to investigate the death of eight persons in Lakhimpur Kheri. Uttar Pradesh government has appointed retired Allahabad High Court judge Pradeep Kumar Srivastava as a single-member Commission to inquire about the incident and enquiry to be completed within a period of two months.