New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday directed the Uttar Pradesh government to give protection to the witnesses of Lakhimpur Kheri violence in which eight people including four farmers were killed during a protest, and find more eye-witnesses as such testimonies are more credible.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana, issuing a slew of directions, asked the UP government, represented by senior advocates Harish Salve and Garima Prasad, to record the statements of other witnesses before judicial magistrates under Section 164 of the CrPC and expedite the examination of digital evidence by experts.
The bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, sought a separate report from the state government on the alleged lynching of a journalist by the mob, post the mowing down incident.
The bench asked the state government to file a report on the probe conducted so far in the lynching of one Shyam Sunder by a mob of farmers.
Referring to the large crowd at the protest site, where the four farmers were allegedly mowed down by the convoy of Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister and BJP MP Ajay Kumar Mishra, the bench asked why the probe agency found only 23 witnesses to the incident.
Your case and for that matter, anybody's case has been that there were hundreds of farmers there and a rally was going on. Only 23 people are there as eyewitnesses, the bench said.
What we are saying...you understand. You (Salve) ask your agency that out of the rest of the witnesses just see who can also say more about the incident...eye witnesses' evidence are more credible. It is always better that first hand information and evidence is available. It is always better to have credible evidence, the CJI observed.
Taking note of the fact that recording of statements of several witnesses are to be conducted, the court directed the District Judge concerned to entrust the task of recording of evidence under Section 164 of the CrPC to the nearest judicial magistrates also.
Statements under Section 164 of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) are recorded before a judicial magistrate and they have evidentiary value.
The bench asked Salve to convey its concerns to forensic labs and experts on preparation of reports on digital evidence of the incident and fixed the plea for further hearing on November 8.
The second thing is about the protection of witnesses... We had orally observed and had not given any direction. Now we direct the state to provide necessary protection to the witnesses, the bench directed in its order.
At the outset, Salve said that out of 68 witnesses, statements of 30 witnesses have been recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC and some more testimonies will be recorded.
"Of these 30 witnesses, 23 claim to be eyewitnesses. A lot of witnesses are formal witnesses of recovery and all," Salve said.
He also submitted that several pieces of digital evidence have been recovered and sent for examination by experts.
Some people who had seen the vehicles and those inside have been made witnesses and their statements recorded by magistrates, said Salve, adding that some others who witnessed certain recoveries have been exempted from recording statements before the judicial officer.
Your case is also that there was a crowd of four-five thousand persons and they were all local people and there have been reports that even after the incident, most of them were agitating and hence their accessibility or identification should not be a serious problem.., the bench said.
Salve said he would put in a sealed cover the statements of some of the witnesses whose testimonies have been recorded under section 164 of the CrPC by the judicial magistrates.
He said 16 accused have been identified so far.
Identification is important and the second thing which I want to know that out of these 23 witnesses, are there any injured witnesses, the CJI asked.
The state government said that there were around five injured persons who have been made witnesses by the probe agency.
Observing that the probe into the Lakhimpur Kheri violence should not be an unending story, the Supreme Court on October 20 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.
The apex court was hearing a matter about the October 3 violence in Lakhimpur Kheri in which eight persons including four farmers were killed during a farmers' protest and over ten accused including Ashish Mishra have been arrested so far in the case.
Four farmers were mowed down by an SUV in the convoy at Lakhimpur Kheri when a group agitating against the Centre's three new farm laws was holding a demonstration against the visit of Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya on October 3.
Two BJP workers and a driver were beaten to death allegedly by the angry protesters, and a local journalist was killed in the violence.