Lakhimpur Kheri violence case: SC directs UP govt to identify more witnesses, grant them protection

A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana asked the UP government to record the statements of other relevant witnesses before judicial magistrates under Section 164 of the CrPC.

A file image of the Supreme Court. PTI

Days after admonishing the state authorities for “dragging their feet” in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence probe, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Uttar Pradesh government why only 23 eyewitnesses were brought on record for an incident where hundreds of people were present. The top court also directed the state government to offer protection to all witnesses and finish recording their statements expeditiously. It then posted the matter for further hearing on 8 November.

The Uttar Pradesh government, which faced some difficult questions during the last hearing as well, was asked why the statements of only 23 eyewitnesses were presented before it.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana asked the UP government, represented by senior advocates Harish Salve and Garima Prasad, to record the statements of other relevant witnesses before judicial magistrates under Section 164 of the CrPC.

“We direct the District Judge concerned to entrust the task of recording of evidence under Section 164 of the CrPC to the nearest judicial magistrates available,” said the bench which also comprised Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.

Statements under Section 164 of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) are recorded before a judicial magistrate and they have evidentiary value.

Justice Surya Kant asked, “You said there were 4,000 or 5,000 people. Mostly they were locals. Post-incident most of them have been agitating for an inquiry. Accessibility and identification of such persons in the vehicle should not be a great issue.”

To this, Harish Salve, the state’s counsel responded that the statements of only eyewitnesses were recorded and presented before the court. “If you approve we can show some 164 statements to you,” Salve responded.

The bench asked Salve to convey its concerns to forensic labs and experts on the preparation of reports on the electronic evidence of the incident and also directed the state government to file its report on two complaints including the one related to the lynching of a journalist.

The state is directed to file separate replies in the cases, the bench said and fixed the plea for further hearing on 8 November.

During the hearing, the bench raised the question over the number of eyewitnesses made by the prosecution in the case and said, The case is that thousands of farmers were going on and a rally was going on. Only 23 witnesses are eyewitnesses?

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 several digital pieces of evidence that have been recovered and sent for examination by experts.

Observing that the probe into the Lakhimpur Kheri violence should not be an unending story, the Supreme Court on 20 October 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 3 October violence in Lakhimpur Kheri in which eight persons including four farmers were killed during a farmers’ protest and over ten accused, including Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra, have been arrested so far in the case.

With inputs from PTI

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