New Delhi, Jan 25 (PTI) The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted an eight-week interim bail to Union minister Ajay Kumar Mishra's son Ashish in the "unfortunate ghastly incident" of violence in 2021 at Lakhimpur Kheri which claimed eight lives, and directed him to leave Uttar Pradesh within one week of his release from jail.
The apex court, while observing that it was issuing certain interim directions in furtherance of interest of justice and in a way on an "experimental basis" to adjudge as to whether there is any substance in the apprehensions expressed on behalf of the state and the informant, said Ashish Mishra shall not stay either in Uttar Pradesh or in Delhi during the period of interim bail.
A bench of Justices Surya Kant and J K Maheshwari noted that while the state's counsel had contested the prayer for grant of bail on the ground that a strong prima facie case has been made out against Ashish, the advocate representing the informant had contended that he commanded "tremendous influence" in the jurisdiction where the incident had occurred.
The top court exercised its "suo-moto constitutional powers" and directed that four accused -- Guruwinder Singh, Kamaljeet Singh, Gurupreet Singh and Vichitra Singh -- who were arrested in connection with a separate FIR lodged over the killing of three occupants of the SUV which allegedly mowed down farmers there, be released on interim bail till further orders.
"The petitioner (Ashish Mishra) is directed to be released on interim bail initially for a period of eight weeks subject to his furnishing bail bonds to the satisfaction of the trial court," the bench said.
"With a view to ward off any direct or indirect influence on the material witnesses who are yet to depose, the petitioner is directed to leave the state of Uttar Pradesh within one week from the date of his release on interim bail," it said.
The bench said any attempt made by Ashish, his family or supporters to influence or threaten the witnesses, directly or indirectly, shall entail cancellation of interim bail.
On October 3, 2021, eight people were killed in Lakhimpur Kheri district's Tikunia where violence erupted when farmers were protesting against the then deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya's visit to the area.
According to the Uttar Pradesh Police FIR in the case, four farmers were mowed down by an SUV in which Ashish was seated.
Following the incident, the driver of the SUV and two BJP workers were allegedly lynched by angry farmers. A journalist also died in the violence.
In its order, the apex court said Ashish shall surrender his passport to the trial court within one week of his release on interim bail and not enter Uttar Pradesh except to attend the trial proceedings.
It said he shall disclose the place of his residence to the trial court as well as the jurisdictional police station where he would stay during the period of interim bail.
The bench said he shall mark his presence in the jurisdictional police station once a week.
"The prosecution, SIT (special investigation team), informant or any family member of the victims of the crime will be at liberty to promptly inform this court of any incident of misuse of the concession of the interim bail," it said.
The bench said Ashish shall appear before the trial court on every date of hearing and no adjournment shall be sought on his behalf.
"If the petitioner is found involved in prolonging the trial, it shall be taken as a valid ground to cancel the interim bail," it said.
The bench said there are two separate FIRs with different narratives but the place of occurrence and substratum of the incident are the same.
"The question as to who were the aggressors or responsible for the unfortunate ghastly incident would be ascertained only after a full-fledged trial," it said.
The bench directed the trial court to prioritise the deposition of protected witnesses, followed by other crucial witnesses.
It said all accused and their counsel will ensure full cooperation to the trial court and no adjournment shall be granted by the court merely on the request of the undertrials or their lawyers.
"The trial court shall send progress reports to this court after every date of hearing, along with details of witnesses examined on each date. The Registry is directed to list the matter without any delay for appropriate directions as soon as a report is received from the trial court," the bench said.
It said the trial court shall also be at liberty to move the apex court, if need be, for issuance of suitable directions to the prosecution, accused or any other stakeholder so that the trial is not hampered in any manner till it reaches a logical conclusion.
In its order, the bench noted, "At the same time, we find ourselves in agreement with the apprehensions raised regarding fair trial and the doubts surrounding the impartiality of the conduct of law enforcement agencies." "We are, therefore, of the view that it is imperative to balance the rights of petitioner's liberty emanating under Article 21 vis-a-vis the State's right to ensure a fair and proper trial and safeguard the legitimate outcry of the victim(s) of crime," it said.
While posting the matter for further consideration on March 14, the bench clarified it has not expressed any views on the merits of the versions contained in both the FIRs. "In view of two diametrically opposite versions, both supported by their respective investigation reports, we are not inclined to express any final opinion as regard to the petitioner's (Ashish) right to seek regular bail at this stage," the bench said. "Rather, we undertake to keep these proceedings pending by issuing certain interim directions, in furtherance of interest of justice and in a way on an experimental basis, to adjudge as to whether there is any substance in the apprehensions expressed on behalf of the state and the informant," it said.
The bench said it is conscious of the grave allegations levelled against Ashish but it must also acknowledge that principles of procedural fairness require these allegations to be proven in trial proceedings.
"In the present case, charges have been framed, and petitioner is in custody for more than a year. In view of the large volume of oral and documentary evidence, which the prosecution is entitled to lead in both the cases, coupled with the defence evidence, if any, trial cannot be expected to be concluded that early," it noted.
The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court had on July 26 last year rejected Ashish Mishra's bail plea. He had challenged the high court's order in the apex court. On December 6 last year, the trial court had framed charges against Ashish Mishra and 12 others for the alleged offences of murder, criminal conspiracy and other penal laws in the case of death of the four protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, paving the way for the start of the trial. PTI ABA TIR ABA SK SK