The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted an eight-week interim bail to Union Minister Ajay Kumar Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra, the key accused in the 2021 Lakhimpur Kheri violence case.
The apex court imposed a slew of stringent conditions on him and also decided to monitor the trial in the case.
A bench of Justices Surya Kant and J. K. Maheshwari said: “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.”
Granting the 8-week interim bail to Mishra, the bench noted that it is not inclined to express any final opinion as regard to the petitioner’s (Mishra) right to seek regular bail at this stage, rather 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.
The apex court imposed a slew of conditions while granting bail to Mishra: he will have to leave UP within 1 week of his release, he cannot stay in UP or Delhi/NCR, he shall inform court about his location, and any attempt by his family members or Mishra himself to influence witness will lead to cancellation of his bail.
Mishra will also have to surrender his passport, he will not enter the Uttar Pradesh except to attend the trial proceedings, and the prosecution, SIT, 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.
“The petitioner 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,” the bench said.
The apex court also decided to monitor the Lakhimpur Kheri trial, and asked the trial judge to send progress reports after every date of hearing.
“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 trial court shall also be at liberty to move this 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,” said the bench.
Four accused in jail in connection with the cross-FIR under murder charge in the case were also directed by the apex court to be released on interim bail.
The bench noted that in the present case, charges have been framed, and Mishra 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,” noted the bench, and scheduled the matter for further hearing on March 14.
During the hearing, Additional Advocate General for Uttar Pradesh Garima Prashad opposed Mishra’s bail plea. She had submitted that it was a grave and heinous crime and granting bail will send a wrong signal to society.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for those opposing the bail plea, said grant of bail will send a terrible message to society.
“It is a conspiracy and a well-planned murder. I will show it from the charge sheet. He is the son of a powerful man being represented by a powerful lawyer,” he said.
On October 3, 2021, eight people were killed in Lakhimpur Kheri district’s Tikunia in a violence that erupted when farmers were protesting against UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya’s visit to the area.
According to the Uttar Pradesh Police FIR, four farmers were mowed down by an SUV, in which Ashish Mishra was seated.
Following the incident, a driver and two BJP workers were allegedly lynched by angry farmers. A journalist also died in the violence.
On December 6 last year, a trial court had framed charges against Ashish Mishra and 12 others for the alleged offences of murder, criminal conspiracy and others in the case of death of the protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, paving the way for the start of the trial.
A total of 13 accused, including Ashish Mishra, have been charged under IPC sections 147 and 148 related to rioting, 149 (unlawful assembly), 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 427 (mischief) and 120B (punishment for criminal conspiracy), and section 177 of the Motor Vehicle Act.