Thursday, the Supreme Court reserved its decision on the bail petition of Lakhimpur Kheri violence suspect Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister of State Ajay Mishra, challenging the Allahabad High Court’s order denying him bail; the Uttar Pradesh government and families of the victims opposed the petition.
UP Additional Advocate General Garima Prashad told a bench of Justices Surya Kant and J K Maheshwari, “It is a serious crime that could have negative repercussions on society.” However, the bench said, “There are two definitions of grave and heinous, and we cannot comment on either of them.”
On October 3, 2021, four farm law protesters were killed when a convoy of vehicles, including one owned by Ajay Mishra, ploughed over them. In the ensuing fighting, two BJP activists, the driver of one of the vehicles, and a journalist were also slain.
Senior Counsel Mukul Rohatgi stated that his client Ashish Mishra had been detained for more than a year. According to the status report submitted by the trial court, there are approximately 208 witnesses in the case, and the trial will last at least five years.
Rohatgi stated that there are approximately 200 witnesses in the other FIR filed against the violent farmers. This would necessitate the similar examination of approximately 400 witnesses, which might take seven to eight years, he noted.
The senior counsel stated that Mishra was not present at the scene of the occurrence while arguing that the right to a speedy trial is guaranteed under Article 21. He stated that it is not a case of murder, but rather a violent mob that killed certain people.
Rohatgi argued that the farmers initiated the conflict by throwing stones at Ajay Mishra’s Mahindra Thar, which overturned and killed several members of the mob.
He stated that Jagjeet Singh, the complainant in the case against Ashish Mishra, was not an eyewitness and that Jaiswal, one of the Thar passengers, provided a more credible eyewitness statement.
“There was a melee that occurred. Some persons in the vehicle and some farmers were killed,” said Rohatgi. He stated that there were no gunshot wounds, adding that this negated claims that Mishra had fired at the people.
“Strongly disputing the bail,” UP Additional Advocate General Prashad stated that seven witnesses in the indictment reported seeing Mishra flee.
Justice Kant asked Prashad, “At this point, what are your concerns?” Do you believe he will likely tamper with the evidence? Do you believe that he will flee?” Prashad remarked, “That has never occurred before.”
Senior Counsel Dushyant Dave, representing the victims’ families, cited a 1986 ruling and stated that bail could not be granted when both the trial court and the High Court have denied the relief.
The bench questioned whether he claimed that the highest court had the authority to issue bail when grievous injustices had been committed. “You cannot assert that the Supreme Court is a mute observer, nor can you limit the authority of a constitutional court. The bench stated that you cannot claim the Supreme Court has no authority because nothing has been done.
Dave stated that it was a case of “cold-blooded murder” and added that he will demonstrate from the indictment that it was a premeditated plot. They had the right to demonstrate. The father of the accused insisted that the demonstrators should be expelled from the location. This is an unusual instance, not a straightforward one,” he remarked.
The court stated, however, that the father was not a defendant in the case. Dave said that he, too, should have been implicated.
Regarding the argument that farmers engaged in arson, resulting to the overturning of the vehicle, Dave stated, “Will not the people in this country react if you run a car over five people? It is a grave and unexpected provocation. First, a murder occurs, and then the mob goes insane. Even if a car causes an accident in front of the Supreme Court, hundreds of people will gather to destroy it. This is the response of society. The populace was so enraged and upset. I am not their defender. But consider the facts of this case objectively.”
Dave was concerned that Mishra’s release on bail might prevent the trial from proceeding. “We are aware of how influential people affect the trial,” he remarked.
The bench stated, “We are not suggesting that he does not face severe allegations” and continued, “The High Court or Sessions Court will also not issue release if this court denies bail.”
Dave then talked about Siddique Kappan, a journalist from Kerala, and said that he had been in jail for almost three years.
Justice Kant then reminded him that he had written the 2021 case Union of India v. K.A. Najeeb ruling that granted bail to one of the defendants charged under the UAPA. In the 2010 case, Najeeb was accused of slicing off the palm of a Kerala professor for blasphemy.
Dave also brought up Section 436A of the Criminal Procedure Code, which says that a defendant can be held in jail for up to one-half of the maximum sentence. He said that a year in jail for a murder charge was not a long time.
Justice Kant stated that he was also considering the inaccessible victims. “There are farmers and the underprivileged languishing in prison. How would they find solace if Ashish Mishra is denied bail?
Rohatgi denied that it wasn’t a cold-blooded murder and said that nothing had been planned ahead of time. “It is, at best, a Section 304 IP case,” he stated, adding that there was no intent.
The bench stated, reserving judgment, “This is a case that deserves further judicial supervision, which we shall perform.” Then we will adjourn this case until the witnesses have been examined.”