Tribune News Service
New Delhi, October 20
The Supreme Court on Wednesday told the Uttar Pradesh SIT probing into the Lakhimpur Kheri violence - in which eight people, including four farmers, were killed on October 3 – to record statements of more witnesses before the Magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC to prepare a foolproof case.
“We get the impression that you are dragging your feet…Please do the needful to dispel that,” a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana told senior advocate Harish Salve, who represented the UP government.
After perusing a status report filed by the Uttar Pradesh government, the Bench repeatedly sought to know the number of accused arrested, the status of their police/judicial custody and how many witnesses’ statements had been recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC, which would make it difficult for them to retract.
Salve told the court that so far 10 accused had been arrested in connection with the death of farmers and statements of 40 witnesses before police and four before a magistrate had been recorded. He said four of the accused were in police custody.
As the Bench sought to know why the rest of the accused were not in police custody, Salve explained that they were initially in police custody and after their interrogation and recording of statements they were sent to judicial custody.
The Bench – which also included Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli – clarified that it wanted the SIT to record statements of witnesses under Section 164 of the CrPC as many of them might be vulnerable to threat.
"Recording of statements under 164 is different! It’s before a judicial magistrate. Its evidentiary value is far better…Your SIT can recognise who are the most vulnerable witnesses and can be browbeaten.. then why only four witnesses’ statements have been recorded?" the CJI asked Salve who said the process was on and it got delayed because courts were closed for Dussehra vacation.
Directing the Uttar Pradesh government to file a further updated status report, the top court posted the matter for October 26.
At the very outset of the hearing the Bench took exception to filing of the status report in a sealed cover. “I kept waiting till 1 o’clock at night for the report….,” the CJI said, adding, “There is no need for the report to be filed in a sealed cover.”
As the CJI said the report had to be filed at least a day before the scheduled hearing, Salve assured him that the next status report on the SIT probe would be filed by Monday.
The top court asked the SIT to bifurcate the two cases – mowing down of farmers by an SUV and the subsequent lynching of BJP workers by an angry mob. Then it went on to seek details of the probe into the farmers’ death. Salve told the Bench that it was difficult to investigate the second case.
The Bench - which had on October 8 expressed dissatisfaction over the manner in which Uttar Pradesh Police handled the probe into the “brutal” murders – asked the Uttar Pradesh government to ensure that the victims and witnesses were protected properly.
The Bench – which had earlier hinted at handing over the probe to an agency other than the CBI – didn’t talk about changing the probe agency on Wednesday.
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