The Supreme Court observed that it was not satisfied with the UP government’s efforts in the Lakhimpur Kheri investigation so far.
“We respect the media and its independence, but this is not the way to cross it. It is not at all fair,” said Supreme Court Justice Hima Kohli today while hearing a PIL filed in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence.
How did the media and, more specifically, Times Now find its way into today’s Supreme Court hearing on the October 3 violence where eight people lost their lives?
The answer: misinformation
The bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, comprising Justices Hima Kohli and Surya Kant, was hearing the PIL based on letters by two advocates seeking a CBI probe into the Lakhimpur Kheri violence. Three vehicles had rammed into protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri on October 3. It is alleged that Ashish Mishra, the son of union minister Ajay Kumar Mishra, was in one of these vehicles. Eight people – four farmers, two BJP workers, the driver of one of the vehicles, a journalist – subsequently died.
Advocate Agnish Aditya raised the issue of misinformation spread by a certain media house in relation to the issue.
On October 7, Aditya said, Times Now had tweeted that CJI Ramana had visited the kin of those killed in Lakhimpur Kheri.
After a long sigh, Ramana said, “Now, I don’t want to say more, this is all TV news things.”
Justice Surya Kant chipped in: “That’s very unfortunate for the media to...We are sorry to observe that somebody is exceeding the limit of freedom of speech. Verify the facts, this is false representation they indulge [in].”
At this point, senior advocate Harish Salve, representing the UP government, said: “All of us are at the receiving end of irresponsible tweets. I have seen some about myself also.”
The chief justice replied, “No, no, Mr Salve. I am not on the issue of tweets. I am concerned...They must have some sense, I am sitting in court. How can I go to Lucknow and visit the family? What is this nonsense?”
Salve then said that the tweet in question was so absurd that it should be treated “with contempt, not in contempt”.
While CJI Ramana said to leave the matter there and not bother about such things, Justice Kant interjected: “But we expect still, that they will take some action...They should come with a bonafide, voluntary report to say, ‘Yes, this is what we have done.’”
Which is when Justice Kohli spoke about how the media should not cross the limit.
‘Not satisfied’ with steps of state government
The UP police yesterday made the first two arrests in connection with the violence, three days after the FIR was filed in the matter. Subsequently, the police pasted a notice on the door of Ashish Mishra’s home, summoning him to appear before them by 10 am today. Mishra is an accused in one of the FIRs.
Mishra did not comply with the summons.
Today, the apex court said it was “not satisfied” with the steps taken by the state government to investigate the matter. Yesterday, it had directed the state government to file a status report in the matter, detailing who had been accused and arrested for the eight deaths.
Salve said that the “young man against whom the allegations are targeted” – referring to Ashish Mishra – “appears to be a very serious problem”. The court interjected that the charges were serious; they did not merely “appear” to be serious.
Salve then informed the court that Mishra was supposed to appear for questioning today but had asked for time, following which he was asked by the state to show up at 11 am tomorrow. Salve added, “If he does not show up at 11 am tomorrow, the rigour of the law will be brought into play against him.”
The bench then pulled up the UP government for not treating this case like other complaints, adding that the FIR against Ashish mentions penal sections pertaining to murder.
“Treat this the same way we treat the other accused also in other cases, instead of saying, ‘We are sending notice, please come, please stay,’” said the CJI. He asked how accused persons in the country could be sent “invitations”; shouldn’t they be apprehended soon after the registering of the FIR?
Salve responded that the UP government had argued that the postmortem reports of the deceased do not show bullet wounds. The court said eyewitnesses had given statements on what they had seen that day, and the postmortem not mentioning a gunshot injury cannot be grounds to not arrest the accused.
The court then said the investigation was not proceeding the way it should. Responding to Salve’s assurance that the needful will be done by Saturday morning, the court said: “It appears it is only on words and not in action.”
“Mr Salve, the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” said Justice Kohli, while CJI Ramana asked “what message” the inaction sent out.
Ramana also spoke about how the special investigation team constituted by the state government included mostly local officers, and asked whether the state had asked for the initiation of a CBI inquiry. Salve asked that the case not be handed over to a new agency as it would result in further delays.
The court finally directed the UP government to “take all the necessary steps” to satisfy the court and protect the evidence in the case. The matter was then posted for hearing on October 20.