The Supreme Court on Tuesday said the trial in the 2021 Lakhimpur Kheri violence case, in which Union minister Ajay Kumar Mishra’s son Ashish is among those facing prosecution, is not “slow paced” and directed the concerned sessions judge to keep apprising it about the future developments of the trial.
The top court observed though it is not monitoring the trial but it is having an “indirect supervision” on it.
A bench of Justices Surya Kant and J K Maheshwari said the interim direction contained in its January 25 order, by which it had granted eight-week interim bail to Ashish Mishra in the case, shall continue to operate.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the victim families, told the bench that about 200 prosecution witnesses have to be examined and he is concerned about the “slow pace of the trial”.
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“The trial is not slow-paced. We have received three letters from the trial judge,” the bench observed, adding it had gone through the contents of the letters received from the First Additional District and Sessions Judge, Lakhimpur Kheri.
The top court said as per the letters, examination of three witnesses is over while cross-examination of one of them is going on.
“We are not using the word monitoring but we are having indirect supervision on the trial and we will do that,” it said, adding, “Let us continue with the same status for some more time.”
On January 25, the apex court granted eight-week interim bail to Ashish Mishra and directed him to leave Uttar Pradesh within one week of his release from jail.
On October 3, 2021, eight people were killed in Lakhimpur Kheri district’s Tikunia after violence erupted when farmers were protesting against the then Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya’s visit to the area.
According to the Uttar Pradesh Police FIR, four farmers were mowed down by an SUV in which Ashish Mishra was seated. Following the incident, the driver of the SUV and two BJP workers were allegedly lynched by angry farmers. A journalist also died in the violence.
During the hearing on Tuesday, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Ashish Mishra, told the bench at the outset that after the January 25 order his client was released from jail and he has appeared before the trial court on every date of hearing.
The bench said it has received letters from the trial judge and the proceedings are going on and witnesses are being examined.
“The trial court shall continue to apprise this court of the future developments of the trial,” the bench said and posted the matter for hearing in May.
While hearing the matter on February 13, the apex court had said, “With a view to ensure that trial proceedings can run smoothly and no impediment is caused by anyone, it is directed that the accused persons and one family member of each victim/complainant shall be permitted to attend the court proceedings along with their respective counsels in both the First Information Reports.”
In its January 25 order, the top court had exercised its “suo-moto constitutional powers” and directed that four accused — Guruwinder Singh, Kamaljeet Singh, Gurupreet Singh and Vichitra Singh — who were arrested in connection with a separate FIR lodged over the killing of three occupants of the SUV, which allegedly mowed down farmers there, be released on interim bail till further orders.
While granting eight-week interim bail to Ashish Mishra, the bench said any attempt made by him, his family or supporters to influence or threaten the witnesses, directly or indirectly, shall entail cancellation of interim bail.
It said Ashish Mishra shall surrender his passport to the trial court within one week of his release on interim bail and not enter Uttar Pradesh except to attend the trial proceedings.
The apex court also said he shall disclose the place of his residence to the trial court as well as the jurisdictional police station where he would stay during the period of interim bail.
“The trial court shall send progress reports to this court after every date of hearing, along with details of witnesses examined on each date,” the top court had said.
The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court on July 26 last year rejected Ashish Mishra’s bail plea. He had challenged the high court’s order in the apex court.
On December 6 last year, the trial court framed charges against Ashish Mishra and 12 others for the alleged offences of murder, criminal conspiracy and other penal laws in the case of death of the four protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, paving the way for the start of the trial.