Lakhimpur Kheri case: SC reserves order on appeal to set aside the bail granted to Ashish Mishra

THE Supreme Court, earlier today, reserved an order on an appeal seeking to set aside the bail granted to Union Minister Ajay Mishra Teni’s son Ashish Mishra, the main accused in the killing of protesting farmers at Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh last year. The appeal was preferred by farmers Jagjeet Singh, Pawan Kashyap, and Sukhwinder Singh against the Allahabad High Court’s Lucknow bench order on February 10 releasing Mishra on bail.

A special bench comprising Chief Justice of India [CJI] N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli heard at length senior advocates Dushyant Dave, Ranjit Kumar and Mahesh Jethmalani on behalf of the appellants, the accused Mishra and the Uttar Pradesh Government respectively.

Dave argued that the High Court, while granting bail to Mishra, overlooked the gravity and seriousness of the offence. He added that the high court examined unnecessary issues relating to bullet injuries on the victims, which were not relevant considerations in a bail matter. Dave also submitted that the victims were not heard by the high court while considering the bail petition because none of them could appear since they were disconnected from the virtual hearing, and their application to this effect was rejected. He further contended that Mishra went on a route knowing fully well that 10,000 to 15,000 protesting farmers had gathered there. He argued that even rash driving can invite the offence of Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code.

In its bail order, the Allahabad High Court had observed that it was evident from the First Information Report [FIR] that the role of firing was assigned to Mishra for killing the protesters, but during the course of the investigation, no such firearm injuries were found either on the body of any of the deceased or on the body of any injured person.

During the hearing, the special bench expressed displeasure at the high court order. The CJI said, “We do not approve this kind of bail order where there is a detailed discussion on the merits of the case. How can a judge go into post mortem etc.?”

Kumar was appearing for Mishra, defended the high court order and said that the high court went into the aspect of bullet injuries because the FIR said that there was death due to firearms. Kumar also submitted that it was not correct on the part of the victims to claim that they were not heard. He added that if the Supreme Court were to set aside Mishra’s bail, then he will be remediless as no court will grant him bail.

He added that the Court may impose any additional bail conditions if it thinks appropriate.

Jethmalani acknowledged that the offence involved is serious, but added that Mishra is not a flight risk. He submitted that the state has been providing adequate security to all the vital witnesses. On the question of the bench as to why the government did not act on the Special Investigation Team [SIT]’s recommendation to challenge Mishra’s bail, Jethmalani submitted that the SIT asked for the appeal since Ashish Mishra is an influential person and he could tamper with evidence; this did not persuade the government because all the witnesses are provided with adequate security.

On the high court order, Jethmalani submitted that the high court ought not to have done a mini-trial, and said it was his government that led the opposition against Mishra’s bail in the high court.

In November last year, the Supreme Court, in order to ensure transparency, fairness, and absolute impartiality of the investigation, appointed former judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain to monitor and supervise the ongoing investigation into the Lakhimpur Kheri violence.

On October 3 last year, eight people were killed in Lakhimpur Kheri during violence that erupted when farmers were protesting against Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya’s visit to the area.