Lakhimpur Kheri Victims’ Families Disappointed With Ashish Mishra’s Bail
Image Courtesy: PTI
The Supreme Court’s (SC) eight-week interim bail for Ashish Mishra, the son of Union minister of state for home affairs Ajay Mishra Teni and the key accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case, on Wednesday disappointed the kin of the deceased with some of them expressing fear.
Four farm law protesters and a journalist were killed when a convoy of vehicles, including one belonging to Ashish, ran over them at Banbirpur village, near Tikunia, in Uttar Pradesh’s (UP) Lakhimpur Kheri district, on October 3, 2021. Two BJP workers and Mishra’s driver were also killed by protesters in the ensuing violence.
A Bench comprising Justices Surya Kant and JK Maheshwari directed Mishra to leave UP within one week of availing the bail and not to stay in the NCT of Delhi during the bail period, LiveLaw reported. Besides, he has to surrender his passport before the trial court and can enter the state only to attend the trial court proceedings.
The SC warned that the bail would be cancelled if Mishra, his family or supporters try to influence or intimidate the witnesses directly or indirectly. He has to attend the trial court proceedings regularly and cannot seek any adjournment. The bail would also be cancelled if tries to delay the trial.
The apex court also directed Mishra to disclose the place of his residence to the trial court and the jurisdictional police station where he would stay during the bail period within one week of his release.
The top court also granted interim bail to four persons accused in the counter case, registered against the farmers, invoking its suo motu powers. They would be released on interim bail until further orders subject to furnishing bail bonds to the trial court.
The SC decided to keep Mishra’s regular bail application pending and granted him interim bail to adjudge the impact of his release on trial. The petition was posted for hearing on March 14.
The Allahabad High Court (HC) had granted bail to Mishra on February 10, 2022, but it was set aside by an SC Bench comprising the then-CJI NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli in April after noting that the HC took into account irrelevant considerations and ignored relevant factors. The bail application was subsequently remanded to the HC. On July 26, the HC dismissed the bail application after re-hearing the matte following the SC remand.
During Wednesday’s hearing, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Mishra, argued that mobile phone tower location records showed that Mishra was elsewhere when the crime occurred.
Terming the incident a “fracas”, Rohatgi contended that the deaths took place when the driver lost control of the vehicle due to an attack by the farmers.
The state of UP opposed the bail application by saying that the crime was “grave and heinous”. Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the relatives of the victims, vehemently opposed the grant of bail.
Dave said that the SC had consistently refused to interfere when bail has been concurrently rejected by the trial court and the HC in a serious offence of Section 302 of the IPC.
“Will the Supreme Court lay down a uniform law that every murder accused will be entitled to bail after one year of custody?” Dave asked.
Refuting Rohatgi’s argument that it was a fracas, Dave contended that the crime was “premeditated as there was a previous statement by Mishra’s father threatening the protesters”.
The kin of the deceased were disappointed with the bail order. Guramneet Singh Mangat, general secretary of the Progressive Farmers Front, one of the two organisations that organised the October 3 protest in Lakhimpur Kheri, told Newsclick that “though Mishra has the right to get bail like every other person, the family members of four deceased farmers are disappointed with the judgement”.
“On the other hand, it is a sigh of relief for the four youths arrested for allegedly murdering a driver and two BJP workers. They were jailed despite having no criminal history,” Mangat claimed.
Jagdeep Singh, the eldest son of Nachhatar Singh, one of the farmers who was mowed down, had said last October that as long as “Ajay Mishra, continues to be a minister, justice cannot be done in this case”.
Following the bail order, Jagdeep said, “The decision to give him bail might turn out to be the trump card for the Yogi Adityanath government in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections as it will appease Brahmin voters.”
The bail order shows that the “government is playing with farmers’ emotions and also supporting Ajay Mishra despite the evidence against him and his son Ashish Mishra”, he told Newsclick.
“Mishra was granted interim bail on the condition that he will leave Uttar Pradesh within a week of his release. It means anybody can commit a heinous crime and leave his state? Is it justice or mockery of justice? He has been given bail deliberately and will go underground—rest is an open secret,” a distraught Jagdeep added.
Pawan Kashyap, brother of journalist Raman Kashyap, who was mowed down, fears threat to his life from Ashish Mishra, whose writ runs in Lakhimpur Kheri.
“I do not want to comment on the order but we have full faith in the Supreme Court that justice will be served sooner or later. However, a sense of fear of being targeted or a witness being influenced has engulfed us after his bail. When Mishra’s car can mow down farmers in a gathering, he can go to any extent to influence witnesses,” Pawan alleged.
When asked how life has changed after the violence, Pawan said, “Our life has completely changed. A farmer who has nothing to do with politics, police station and court is now running from pillar to post to get justice and attending court hearing every month.”
Last year, at least, three key witness had alleged being attacked by Ashish’s aides at different places. Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Dilbagh Singh told the police that unidentified men fired at his SUV thrice and fled while he was returning home on May 31.
TIMELINE OF LAKHIMPUR KHERI CASE
* Oct 3, 2021: Four farmers protesting then-UP deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya’s visit to Lakhimpur Kheri and a journalist were killed when a convoy of vehicles, including one belonging to Ashish Mishra, ran over them at Banbirpur village, near Tikunia, on October 3, 2021. Two BJP workers and Mishra’s driver were also killed by protesters in the ensuing violence.
* Oct 5, 2021: PIL filed in the SC expressing serious concerns regarding the fairness of the investigation into the incident.
* Oct 6, 2021: Mishra was named in an FIR following allegations that he was in one of the vehicles that mowed down the four farmers.
* Oct 9, 2021: Mishra appeared before the SIT around 10.30 AM after a second summons was served to him the previous day when he did not turn up for interrogation. He was arrested around 11 PM after being grilled by the SIT.
* Oct 12 2021: The investigation committee probing the violence took Mishra and three others arrested in the case to the site to recreate the sequence of events leading to the violence. The forensic team recovered two .315 cartridge shells from a vehicle at the scene of the incident. Mishra could not explain the presence of the shells in his vehicle.
* Oct 20, 2021: The SC comes down hard on the UP government for its ongoing probe into the case saying the police are required to dispel the impression they are dragging their feet, and ensure recording of statements of witnesses before magistrates and their protection.
* Oct 26, 2021: SC directs UP government to give protection to witnesses and find more eyewitnesses as such testimonies are more credible.
* January 3, 2022: The SIT filed a 5,000-page chargesheet against 14 people, including Mishra.
* Feb 10, 2022: Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad HC grants regular bail to Mishra and says the case was one of “accident by hitting with the vehicle”.
* Feb 16 2022: Mishra released after getting bail.
* Feb 21, 2022: Plea filed in the SC challenging HC’s bail.
* Mar 4, 2022: The SC agrees to hear plea challenging the grant of bail.
* Mar 29, 2022: UP government tells the SC that the decision to challenge the grant of bail is pending consideration before relevant authorities.
* Apr 4, 2022: The SC raises questions the HC verdict granting bail to Mishra saying unnecessary details like post-mortem report and nature of wounds should not have gone into when the trial was yet to commence; it reserves order.
* Apr 18, 2022: The SC cancels the bail and asks Mishra to surrender in a week’s time. It remands back the bail application to the HC for fresh adjudication within three months “in a fair, impartial and dispassionate manner, and keeping in view the settled parameters”.
* Jul 26, 2022: The HC rejects the bail plea.
* Sept 6, 2022: The SC seeks response from the UP government on Mishra’s plea seeking bail.
* Jan 19, 2023: The SC reserved its order on his plea.
* Jan 25, 2023: The SC grants eight-week interim bail to Mishra.
SKM EXPRESSES SHOCK & DISMAY
Meanwhile, farmers collective Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) has expressed “shock and dismay” at the order of interim bail granted to Ashish Mishra,
“It is little consolation that the order stipulates that Mishra has to leave UP within 1 week of his release and he cannot stay in UP or NCT of Delhi,” said SKM in a press statement, adding that “it is universally known that the minister had threatened to kill farmers who oppose him and the BJP government and the murder of farmers was a follow-through act of extreme and unproved violence.”
Highlighting that Mishra “is a powerful politician affiliated to the ruling BJP”, the SKM said the release will greatly intimidate witnesses and jeopardise the trial.
“It may be kept in mind that the BJP led UP state govt was soft pedalling the arrest and charging of Ashish Mishra and ultimately the Supreme Court had to order independent investigation and action. It can only be imagined how Mishra on-the-loose will divert and pervert the course of justice” read the statement.
SKM reiterated that it had all along demanded swift punishment of culprits of Lakhimpur Kheri and removal of Ajay Mishra Teni from the Cabinet, both of which remain unfulfilled.
The farmers collective said it would “keep vigil to ensure that Ajay Mishra does not start another reign of terror” and urged the apex court to revoke the interim bail and in any event, not extend it any further.
“Ashish Mishra and his father Ajay Mishra are a threat to society and they cannot be allowed to play havoc in society,” it added.
Noting that innocent farmers who were languishing in jail on account of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident have been given interim bail, SKM also demanded permanent bail to the farmers and withdrawal of fake cases against them.
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