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 evidences 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.
During the hearing, the apex court also enquired if any injured witnesses are there. Initially, Salve said that out of the injured, all were fatalities, but later said that there were 3-4 injured witnesses.
The Bench further 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 family of two of them complained the police was not doing anything.
Senior advocate Arun Bharadwaj appearing for Ruby Devi, widow of one of the killed persons Sundar, told the Bench, "My husband has been killed, I want justice. The killers are roaming free and threatening me," the advocate said.
Senior advocate Harshvir Pratap Sharma mentioned the issue relating to the investigation of the murder of journalist Raman Kashyap during the violence.
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.
The top court had said it is "not satisfied" with the action taken by the Uttar Pradesh government in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence and also questioned the State on why accused Ashish Mishra was not arrested so far.
Ashish Mishra had allegedly mowed down farmers with his car.
The top court had said that the Uttar Pradesh government is not proceeding in the manner in which it should proceed against the accused while adding that the killing of eight people in Lakhimpur Kheri is a "brutal murder" and the law must take its course against all accused.
The top court had asked the Uttar Pradesh government whether in other murder cases the police issue summons instead of arresting the accused.
Not arresting the accused is sending a "wrong message", the Bench had observed as the police has not arrested Ashish Mishra.
The Bench had further observed that transferring the case to CBI for investigation is also not a solution.
Two advocates -- Shiv Kumar Tripathi and CS Panda -- had sent the letter petition before CJI seeking punishment for politicians allegedly involved in the ghastly incident. The letter had stated, "Having regard to the seriousness of the killing of the farmers at district Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, it is incumbent upon this Court to intervene in the matter as flashed in the press."
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 the incident and enquiry to be completed within a period of two months.
Local farmers blame Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Kumar Mishra 'Teni' and his son for the violence that left eight dead, including four farmers a local journalist and others. They were mowed down by a vehicle that was part of the convoy of the minister in Lakhimpur Kheri in north-central Uttar Pradesh.
Videos are also being circulated on social media where a Mahindra Thar was seen knocking down protesters from behind.
The minister and his son deny the charges. Ashish Mishra and 20 others have been booked for murder but have not been arrested yet. (ANI)