UP Police were granted three days’ remand for Union minister Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish, who was arrested five days after being booked for killing four farmers at Banbirpur in Lakhimpur Kheri on October 3. He was later booked for killing a journalist at the site as well. The police had sought 14 days’ remand to question him. Ashish was produced in the court of chief judicial magistrate in a virtual hearing. The court asked the police to conduct a medical examination, ensure Ashish is not under duress and allow his counsel to be present.
Farmers question ‘delay’ in probe
Protesting farmers, on the basis of whose complaint Ashish was booked, have said he was in one of the vehicles that ran over farmers on the day of the violence. Both Ashish and his father have denied this, maintaining that he was not at Banbirpur at the time of the killings. During the 12-hour questioning at Lakhimpur Kheri crime branch office, however, he could not explain where he was between 2.36 pm and 4 pm, a member of the SIT investigating the violence said.
The violence took place around 3pm. He had been sent to 14-day judicial custody on Sunday and sent to Lakhimpur district jail. Police, then, wanted remand to be able to question him. Farmers have, meanwhile, questioned the delay in investigation. Several aspects of the probe, too, have come under scrutiny. About the five days it took for the arrest, Supreme Court lawyer Shobha Gupta explained that a lot depends on “prima facie evidence.”
She said, “Usually, the police or the investigating team put in their best efforts and even follow from state to state a murder accused, to be arrested immediately. They certainly need prima facie evidence to frame an opinion that the person accused has committed the act. Without that, it is unsafe to arrest anyone. But it is equally unsafe to allow the culprit to roam free if there is enough prima facie material against them.”
Ashish was not able to explain the presence of empty cartridges in his vehicle, police sources said. A forensic team had visited the site in Banbirpur and recovered two empty .315 cartridges from Ashish’s vehicle. Ashish has been accused of shooting at farmers. The cartridges have been sent for a forensic exam. CCTV footage from the area is being scanned by experts. A senior police officer added that witnesses have told cops they saw Ashish at a petrol pump near the scene of violence when he came to tank up his vehicle, just a few minutes before some farmers were mowed down.
The minister’s son had skipped summons by the SIT on Friday, after which a second notice had been issued asking him to appear. According to the SIT, Ashish was unable to prove why his SUV (Thar) and a Fortuner, registered in the name of his friend, Ankit Das, were headed towards the protest site, despite police blocking the route for traffic and asking commuters to follow another. Ashish had claimed that the SUV which mowed down farmers was driven by his driver Hari Om Mishra and that he was not in it.
SC not happy with UP govt action
Earlier, in a sharp criticism of the UP government, the Supreme Court asked why accused Ashish Mishra hadn’t been arrested. Noting Ashish had been booked under Section 302 of IPC (murder), the bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli said the state’s claims appeared to be “only in words and not in actions”, before adding, “We hope it will take necessary steps”. Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the UP government, admitted there were lapses on part of the administration and said “what they have done is a hash”.
The court wondered when the violence and loss of eight lives constituted a serious case, why the state authorities did not proceed in the manner in which they should have. “Is it the way you treat accused in other cases (murder cases) also: Issuing notice to them to appear and not arresting them,” the bench said, adding there are “straight statements” of eye witnesses in the case. Its message: all accused should be treated in the same manner irrespective of their background.