Supreme Court: In a big development in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, CJ and Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, JJ has cancelled the bail of the accused Ashish Sharma after observing that the Allahabad High Court had shown a “tearing hurry” in entertaining and granting bail to Mishra.
What happened in Lakhimpur Kheri?
On 29.09.2021, several farmers had gathered in the Khairaitya village in Lakhimpur Kheri District to celebrate the birth anniversary of Sardar Bhagat Singh and to protest against the Indian Agricultural Acts of 2020. During this gathering, the farmers objected to certain comments made by Ajay Mishra, Union Minister of State for Home.
On 03.10.2021, an annual Dangal (wrestling) competition was being organised by the accused Ashish Mishra. The program was to be attended by Ajay Mishra, as well as Keshav Prasad Maurya, Deputy Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. A crowd of farmers started gathering near the helipad in the morning of 03.10.2021. The route of the Chief Guest was thus changed to take him by road. But the changed road route was also passing in front of the Maharaja Agrasen Inter College, where the protesting farmers had been gathering in large numbers. This led the authorities to take recourse to yet another alternative way to reach the Dangal venue.
In the meantime, some supporters of Ashish Mishra, who were travelling by a car to the Dangal venue, were statedly attacked by certain farmers. A hoarding board that displayed pictures of Ajay Mishra and the Accused was also damaged.
Agitated with these happening, Mishra had allegedly conspired with his aides and confidants, and had allegedly drove into the crowd of the returning farmers and hit them with an intention to kill. Resultantly, many farmers and other persons were crushed by the vehicles.
Accuses Mishra and his co¬accused Sumit Jaiswal then escaped by running towards a nearby sugarcane field while taking cover by firing their weapons.
As a consequence of this incident, four farmers, one journalist, the driver of one of the vehicles, and two others, were killed. Nearly ten farmers suffered major and minor injuries.
Supreme Court’s ruling
Victims not heard
Holding that, in the case at hand, the ‘victims’ have been denied a fair and effective hearing at the time of granting bail to the Accused, the Court expressed its disappointment with the manner in which the High Court failed to acknowledge the right of the victims.
It is important to note that the Counsel for the ‘victims’ had got disconnected from the online proceedings and could not make effective submissions before the High Court. Thereafter, an application seeking a rehearing was also moved on the same ground but the same was not considered by the High Court while granting bail to Mishra.
Relevant considerations overlooked by High Court
Instead of looking into aspects such as the nature and gravity of the offence; severity of the punishment in the event of conviction; circumstances which are peculiar to the accused or victims; likelihood of the accused fleeing; likelihood of tampering with the evidence and witnesses and the impact that his release may have on the trial and the society at large; the High Court adopted a myopic view of the evidence on the record and proceeded to decide the case on merits.
It took into account several irrelevant considerations, whilst simultaneously ignoring judicial precedents and established parameters for grant of bail.
“It has been ruled on numerous occasions that a F.I.R. cannot be treated as an encyclopaedia of events. While the allegations in the F.I.R., that the accused used his firearm and the subsequent post-mortem and injury reports may have some limited bearing, there was no legal necessity to give undue weightage to the same.”
The Court, hence, cancelled Mishra’s bail, without depriving him of his legitimate right to seek enlargement on bail on relevant considerations. The following factors weighed in with the Court:
- irrelevant considerations having impacted the impugned order granting bail;
- the High Court exceeding its jurisdiction by touching upon the merits of the case;
- denial of victims’ right to participate in the proceedings; and
- the tearing hurry shown by the High Court in entertaining or granting bail to the respondent/accused.
“This Court is tasked with ensuring that neither the right of an accused to seek bail pending trial is expropriated, nor the ‘victim’ or the State are denuded of their right to oppose such a prayer. In a situation like this, and with a view to balance the competing rights, this Court has been invariably remanding the matter(s) back to the High Court for a fresh consideration.”
The Court was also of the view that ends of justice would be adequately met by remitting this case to the High Court for a fresh adjudication of the bail application of the Accused, in a fair, impartial and dispassionate manner.
Mishra has to surrender within a week.
[Jagjeet Singh v. Ashish Mishra, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 453, decided on 18.04.2022]
*Judgment by: Justice Surya Kant
For Appellants: Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave
For Accused: Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar
For State: Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani