SC sets aside bail granted to Ashish Mishra in Lakhimpuri violence case

THE Supreme Court, earlier today, set aside the Allahabad High Court’s order granting bail to Union Minister Ajay Mishra Teni’s son Ashish Mishra, the main accused in the killing of protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh last year. Resultantly, accused Ashish Mishra was directed by the court to surrender within a week.

A bench comprising the Chief Justice of India [CJI] N.V. Ramana, and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli pronounced the order.

The bench held that the high court took several irrelevant considerations into account while examining the bail application filed by the accused. It remanded the matter to the high court for fresh consideration on merits. The bench pointed out that the victim was denied the right to be heard by the high court.

“The denial of victims to be heard and the tearing hurry showed by the High Court merits the setting aside of bail order”, Justice Kant said.

On February 10, a single judge of the Allahabad High Court had granted bail to Mishra after observing 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.

“Indubitably, no firearm injury has been found on the body of the deceased or any other person, except the injury of the hitting from the vehicle. Furthermore, in case the story of the prosecution is accepted, thousands of protesters gathered at the place of incident and there might be a possibility that the driver tried to speed up the vehicle to save himself, on account of which, the incident had taken place”, the high court had noted.

The high court’s order was appealed by farmers Jagjeet Singh, Pawan Kashyap and Sukhwinder Singh. Appearing for them, senior advocate Dushyant Dave argued that the high court, while granting bail to Mishra, overlooked the gravity and seriousness of the offence. He added that it examined issues relating to bullet injuries on the victims, which were not relevant considerations in a bail matter. Dave 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. 

Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, who appeared 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 cancel Mishra’s bail, then he would be remediless as no court will grant him bail.

Mahesh Jethmalani, for the Uttar Pradesh Government, 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 seek cancellation of Mishra’s bail, Jethmalani submitted that the SIT asked for the appeal since 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.

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.

Click here to read the full order.