Lakhimpur Kheri case: SC questions HC order granting bail to Ashish Mishra, reserves order on challenge

The apex court also questioned the examination of evidence while granting bail to Union Minister’s son Ashish Mishra

Ashish Mishra

Questioning the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government’s inaction in the case of bail granted to the Union minister’s son Ashish Mishra, the Supreme Court on Monday, April 4, said that it expected the UP government to act on the suggestion of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) it had constituted, that had recommended the same. Mishra is accused of owning the vehicle which allegedly mowed down four farmers in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri last year. The court has reserved its order in the appeal against the grant of bail.

At this hearing, the Chief Justice of India (CJI)-led bench of the Supreme Court had revealed that the SIT had twice recommended that the state challenge Mishra’s bail, on the March 30 hearing of the special leave petition filed by the family members of the four farmers, against Ashish’s bail. The court has now reserved its order on the challenge.

Ashish Mishra is the son of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Union Minister of State for home, Ajay ‘Teni’ Mishra. On October 3 last year, after the car allegedly belonging to Ashish ran over four people who were part of a large group of farmers protesting a now-repealed central law. This also led to the death of a local journalist. The SIT led by Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain, former judge of the Punjab and Haryana high court, later called the mowing down of the farmers a “planned conspiracy.”

Ironically, Mishra was granted bail by the Allahabad high court on February 10, the day of the first phase of the seven-phased Uttar Pradesh’s assembly polls. Lower courts had earlier rejected Ashish Mishra’s bail plea. He was released from prison on February 15 while elections were in full swing. Justice Surya Kant also noted during the hearing that the victims of the violence (mowing down) were not even heard during the virtual hearing of the High Court due to technical difficulties.

At the extended hearing of the cancellation of bail granted to Union Minister Ajay Mishra’s son, Ashish Mishra, on Monday, the Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli, also pointed out that there was a problem in which the high court appeared to have gone into the merits of the case while hearing Mishra’s bail. The Bench also wondered why the High Court of Allahabad went into detailed examination of evidence at the stage of granting bail.

LiveLaw reported that the bench, while questioning the State Counsel, said, “Forget about merits, how can the judge go into all this post mortem and all? I’m hearing a bail matter, I don’t want to prolong this. The question is if prima facie the bail has to be cancelled.” The bench further said, “We don’t approve this kind of non-sense, considering such irrelevant things. He was hit by tire scooter what is this? This is not good. We feel going into all these injuries and all is unnecessary and wrong.”

The counsel for Petitioner, Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave argued that the High Court of Allahabad failed to consider relevant facts of the case and that its order granting bail to the accused suffered from gross non-application of mind. In support of his argument he cited SC judgement in the case of Neeru Yadav v. State of U.P. [(2014) 16 SCC 508 : (2015) 3 SCC. (Cri) 527] by Justice DY Chandrachud which stated that the appellate court is to consider if order suffers from non-application of mind and it must also consider the seriousness of offence. Adv. Dave argued that all of this hasn’t been considered by the High Court in this case.

Disapproving the manner in which the High Court of Allahabad has dealt with the case in hand, CJI reportedly stated, “The problem is the way in which the High Court has gone into merits of the case.”

Adv. Kumar submitted that Ashish Mishra was to attend the wrestling event but had to change his route as the famers were protesting to not let the helicopter land. He reportedly added, “Ashish Mishra was not in the car at the time of the incident as the CCTV footage shows that he was 2.8 kms away from the place of incident.” The Court interrupted him warning him to not discuss the merits of the case. However, Adv Kumar reportedly continued stating, “Please see the case from another angle. Driver received injury and was hit by rods and danda.” He requested the court to look into the possibility that the driver could have lost control and driven through the crowd. Adv. Kumar expressed his concern that if the apex court were to cancel the bail, then they wouldn’t have any other remedy left with them, to which the Bench reportedly responded by asking, “If SC cancels bail will he be in jail forever?”

The counsel for the State, advocate and member of the Rajya Sabha, Mahesh Jethmalani stated that there is no scope for tampering with evidence as the witnesses have been provided security and the accused is not a flight risk. Referring to the SIT recommendations where the state was asked to appeal against the bail order, CJI stated that the court expected the State to act on suggestions given by SIT. However, in the State’s defence Senior Advocate Jethmalani submitted that the SIT recommended filing an SLP based on tampering of evidence but all the witnesses have been provided protection.

It is important to note here that contrary to these claims made by the State Counsel, one of the witnesses Diljot Singh was attacked on the intervening night between March 10 and March 11, 2022, when 10 men allegedly belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) allegedly assaulted and threatened him. The goons distracted gunman Manoj, a security guard assigned to protect Singh, and attacked the sugarcane farmer with belts. According to the FIR complaint, accused Ashok, Ramu, Munnalal, Anil Trivedi, Pavan and five to six others dealt severe injuries to Singh’s head and tore his clothes.

On March 15, 2022, the victim’s family advocate Prashant Bhushan informed the SC bench that the witness in the case had been brutally attacked and threatened by the goon who said, “Now that BJP has won the election, you will see what we can do.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court had issued a notice to the State Government of Uttar Pradesh asking it to make sure that the witnesses were protected and directed the State to file a detailed counter affidavit. In its counter affidavit, the State denied the attack on the witness to be connected with the bail granted to Ashish Mishra. Instead, it reportedly claimed that the said incident was the result of a heated argument that augmented over throwing colours during Holi celebration.

On October 3, 2021, Ashish Mishra was travelling with a convoy of vehicles along with other goons, when his vehicle allegedly mowed down protesters. This led to the death of four farmers and one journalist among others at the spot. After dodging arrest for a while, Mishra surrendered, but quickly applied for bail. When it was repeatedly denied by lower courts, Mishra moved the Allahabad High Court.

It was on February 10, a day when Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections commenced, incidentally with a polling phase catering to several farmer dominated constituencies that the HC granted Mishra bail. Farmer leaders expressed great anger on receiving this news, while survivors of the October 3, 2021 incident voiced fear for their lives.


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Lakhimpur Kheri killings were planned: SIT



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