Supreme Court steps in, CJI to hear Lakhimpur case
The Supreme Court on Wednesday registered a public interest litigation on its own on the violence that killed eight people in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district three days ago amid simmering tensions in the region and a visit by opposition leaders to the victims’ kin.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and also comprising justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli will hear the case on Thursday. The suo motu (on its own motion) case has been registered as “In Re Violence in Lakhimpur Kheri (UP) leading to loss of life”.
The matter has been registered as a criminal writ petition, pertaining to investigation and prosecution. Solicitor general Tushar Mehta is also expected to join the proceedings on Thursday.
According to people familiar with the development, the suo motu cognisance has been taken on the basis of some letters written to the CJI and media reports.
The developments came on a day Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, along with Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, his Punjab counterpart Charanjit Singh Channi, AICC general secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal, party MP Deepender Hooda and Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) president Ajay Kumar Lallu, finally reached the remote village – roughly 10km from the India-Nepal border – after trying for three days.
“Shared grief with the family of Lovepreet. But until justice is not done, this satyagraha will continue. Won’t forget your sacrifice, Lovepreet,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi. Lovepreet Singh was one of the farmers who died in Sunday’s violence.
Local farmers blame junior home minister Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’ and his son Ashish Mishra for the violence that left four cultivators dead. Farm groups say a Mahindra Thar owned by Mishra mowed down protesters from behind while they were returning from a demonstration in Tikunia village on Sunday afternoon.
The minister and his son deny the charge and say farmers pelted the car with stones that led the driver losing control of the vehicle. They also accuse the protesters of lynching two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers and the car’s driver. A local journalist was also killed in the melee.
Some unverified videos of the incident appear to back the farmers’ version of the incident and show the Thar knocking down protesters from behind. On Wednesday, a new, clearer 45-second video showed the Thar plough through the farmers at high speed, with two vehicles in tow. The identities of individuals wasn’t clear and HT couldn’t independently verify the clips.
Ashish Mishra and 20 others have been booked for murder but farmers continue to press for his arrest.
“We will wait till the ‘ardas’ (prayers performed on the 10th day after the death of a person belonging to Sikh community) for the arrest of the accused and resignation of the minister,” farm leader Rakesh Tikait said.
The government gave ₹45 lakh as compensation for each family and announced a judicial probe. Channi and Baghel also announced ₹50 lakh compensation each to the victims’ families.
Since violence rocked the region three days ago, tensions have run high as the government ringed the village with police, clamped prohibitory orders, snapped internet and denied landing permission to Baghel’s and Channi’s flights. It also detained Priyanka Gandhi in the early hours on Monday, sparking a political row.
Wednesday began with high drama. The state government initially appeared reluctant to allow Congress leaders to visit Tikunia and denied permission to them to reach Lucknow. Finally, Gandhi and the others were given boarding passes in Delhi and touched down in Lucknow at 1.30pm – only to run into a wall of policemen
“I want to move out of the airport. They are not allowing me to move out. What kind of permission is this?” said Rahul Gandhi, sitting on a dharna at the airport. On Tuesday, Baghel had also been denied permission to leave the terminal.
Minutes later, a heated altercation broke out between Gandhis and the security personnel over the choice of vehicle. “We want to go in our car, but they (police) want to take us in their vehicle. I have asked them to go in my personal vehicle. They are planning something,” said Rahul Gandhi to reporters.
Around 3pm, the Congress delegation left the airport towards Lakhimpur Kheri, roughly 150km away, driving past Congress workers who shouted anti-government slogans. At 6pm, the convoy reached the Sitapur guest house where Priyanka Gandhi had been detained for nearly 55 hours.
She joined her brother before the convoy drove towards Tikunia, where they met the families of the deceased farmers.
“Those who crushed farmers are roaming free. The BJP government is silencing the voices of justice for farmers. We will not allow the voice of justice to go suppressed,” said Priyanka Gandhi in a tweet on Wednesday.
The BJP accused the Congress of opportunism.
“Irresponsibility is another name of Rahul Gandhi, Congress and Rahul are trying to incite violence. He is trying to spread rumours,” BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra said.
On Tuesday, advocates Shiv Kumar Tripathi and CS Panda wrote to the apex court, seeking punishment for politicians allegedly involved in the ghastly incident. “Having regard to the seriousness of the killing of the farmers at district Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, it is incumbent upon this Hon’ble Court to intervene in the matter as flashed in the press,” it said.
On Wednesday morning, senior Congress MP Kapil Sibal posted a tweet requesting the court to take suo motu cognisance of the events. After the Supreme Court website confirmed the development, Sibal posted another tweet thanking the CJI. “This is the need of the hour. This and courts in India are temples of justice that can restore the faith of the voiceless who most often feel orphaned,” he said.
Two days ago, attorney general KK Venugopal cited the Lakhimpur Kheri violence while arguing that farmers should not be allowed to protest when the top court is already considering the three contentious farm laws and also stayed their operation.
Contemplating restrictions on the right to protest, the court observed that “nobody takes responsibility” when damage to properties and physical injuries take place during protests in response to the A-G’s reference to Lakhimpur Kheri.
In the village, local residents continued to protest against minister Mishra and his son. A first information report filed by a local farmer on Monday alleged that Ashish Mishra was in the car that mowed down protesters, and that he fired shots at the farmers, killing one. Ashish denied the charge.
Post-mortem reports of the farmers killed showed that there were no bullet injuries on any of the bodies, and that all four died due to shock, excessive bleeding and haemorrhage. The findings, experts say, are consistent with deaths arising from injuries, such as those caused in an automobile accident.
The post-mortem reports stoked a row in the village, but after a second autopsy was conducted on farmer Gurvinder Singh’s body, his family finally cremated him on Wednesday. With this, all eight victims of the violence were laid to rest.