New Delhi: After the Supreme Court cancelled the bail to Ashish Mishra, the key accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri case, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has demanded that a fresh petition should be heard by a different bench of Allahabad High Court to ensure a fair trial. The farmers’ body, which spearheaded historic agitation against the three contentious farm laws, said that the victims were not given a fair hearing by the bench of Justice Rajiv Singh.
The petitioners had submitted that during the online hearing, the respondents’ internet connection was lost and they could not submit their replies. The Allahabad HC also declined re-hearing of the matter. While granting bail to Mishra, the court depended on arguments that he could not tamper evidence or influence eye- witnesses. However, the two eye-witnesses in the case have alleged that they were attacked by supporters of Mishra, son of a Union minister, after he came out of jail.
The SKM reiterated its demand of sacking Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Mishra, and alleged that he had been trying to exert his influence to disrupt a free and fair trial.
“The brutal case of four farmers and a journalist being crushed in broad daylight by the son of a Union Minister has become a trial for the rule of law across the country. From the very beginning, the government was determined to protect the minister and his son in any way possible and, constitutional norms and legal process have been flouted time and again in this case. Before this massacre, on September 26, Minister Ajay Mishra Teni had openly threatened the farmers, but till date no action has been taken on him,” the morcha said in a statement.
Expressing dismay over the HC granting bail to Mishra, SKM said: “Even after crushing the farmers in broad daylight, the main accused Ashish Mishra was not arrested till the Supreme Court's reprimand. The Allahabad High Court, showing surprising haste, granted bail to the accused on February 10 without hearing the aggrieved side. The High Court did not consider the strong possibility of a politically powerful accused influencing witnesses, but made unreasonable remarks on the peasant movement.”
It said after bail to Ashish Mishra, the two main eye-witnesses were attacked, while, after being released from jail, the accused organised public courts to show his strength.
“Even after a written recommendation by the SIT working under the supervision of a judge, the Uttar Pradesh government did not file an appeal against the decision of the High Court. Ultimately, the families of the deceased farmers had to approach the Supreme Court,” it noted.
The SKM said “even today, many farmers injured in this massacre have not received compensation and the attacks on the eyewitnesses of this massacre are still ongoing. Four farmers implicated in this case are still in jail for murder and their bail application has not even been considered. The terror of Minister Ajay Mishra Teni and his family continues even today at the local level.”
What did Supreme Court say?
The Supreme Court on Monday cancelled the bail given to Ashish Mishra, accused in murdering four farmers and a local journalist in Lakhimpur Kheri during the farm agitation last year. Putting aside the apprehensions of the counsels for Mishra, the apex court asked him to surrender within a week and the Allahabad High Court to begin a fresh hearing to reconsider bail on the merits of the case.
The apex court said that the high court could not put aside the right of victims to be heard. The counsel for Mishra had submitted that he may remain incarcerated in jail for long period until the case concludes.
The court also rejected the contention and maintained: “It is not necessary to dwell upon the wealth of case law which, regardless of the stringent provisions in a penal law or the gravity of the offence, has time and again recognised the legitimacy of seeking liberty from incarceration. To put it differently, no accused can be subjected to unending detention pending trial, especially when the law presumes him to be innocent until proven guilty.”
It further added: “Where the victims themselves have come forward to participate in a criminal proceeding, they must be accorded with an opportunity of a fair and effective hearing. If the right to file an appeal against acquittal, is not accompanied with the right to be heard at the time of deciding a bail application, the same may result in grave miscarriage of justice. Victims certainly cannot be expected to be sitting on the fence and watching the proceedings from afar, especially when they may have legitimate grievances. It is the solemn duty of a court to deliver justice before the memory of an injustice eclipses.”
The high court bench had opined that the present evidence suggested weak argument that a firearm was used to kill the farmers. However, the apex court strongly came up on the observation and said: “Instead of looking into aspects such as the nature and gravity of the offence; severity of the punishment in the event of conviction; circumstances which are peculiar to the accused or victims; likelihood of the accused fleeing; likelihood of tampering with the evidence and witnesses and the impact that his release may have on the trial and the society at large; the High Court has adopted a myopic view of the evidence on the record and proceeded to decide the case on merits.”
SIT found incriminating evidence against Mishra
Formed after intervention of the Supreme Court and monitored by retired justice Rakesh Kumar Jain, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) had found incriminating evidence against Ashish Mishra. After finalisation of investigation, the SIT had urged the chief judicial magistrate to replace lesser charges in the case like causing death by negligence with ‘attempt to murder’, saying that it was a "pre-planned conspiracy causing death".
The SIT also urged the CJM to replace IPC Sections 279 (rash driving/riding), 338 (causing grievous injuries by negligence) and 304A (causing death by a rash and negligent act) with IPC section 307 (attempt to murder) among others in the case related to the October 3 violence, in which four farmers were among those killed. The SIT retained IPC Sections 302 (murder), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).
It also recommended promulgation of IPC 326 (voluntarily causing injuries by dangerous weapons), 34 (acts by several persons with common intentions) and sections 3/25/30 of the Arms Act in warrants of the 13 accused.
The accused have been arrested in connection with FIR number 219 which pertains to the death of the four farmers and a local journalist in Tikunia.