Supreme Court: In a special leave petition filed against the judgment and order passed by the Allahabad High Court, wherein the Court had rejected Ashish Mishra's bail application filed under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure ,1973 (‘CrPC'), the division bench of Surya Kant and J.K Maheshwari, JJ. has granted interim bail to Ashish Mishra, initially for a period of eight weeks, subject to certain conditions.
The Court noted that the alleged incident of crime in this case has already been the subject matter of two separate proceedings before this court — First in Violence in Lakhimpur Kheri (UP) Leading to Loss of Life, In re, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 3195 ,wherein a Special Investigation Team (‘SIT') headed by a retired High Court Judge was constituted to monitor the investigation in the concerned incident and; Second in Jagjeet Singh v. Ashish Mishra, (2022) 9 SCC 321 wherein the Court set aside the erstwhile order granting bail to Ashish Mishra and remitted the matter for reconsideration, which resulted in the impugned decision.
In the case at hand, a wrestling contest had been organised by the Ashish Mishra, which was supposed to be attended by his father, Ajay Mishra who is the Union Ministerof State for Home and Keshav Prasad Maurya, the Deputy Chief Minister of the State of UP. The proposed route which was to be taken by these persons had to be changed because of the protests held by farmers at the incident spot, which is alleged to have irked Ashish and his associates, leading to the alleged occurrence.
The Court noted that two separate First Information Reports (‘FIR') were lodged by the parties involved in the incident against each other, wherein one FIR, it was alleged that Ashish and his associates committed a criminal offence as a retaliation to the protests organised by the farmers on various issues which also included the adverse public comments made by Ashish's father. It was specifically alleged that Ashish and his co-accused intentionally ran over the farmers returning to their respective homes and killed four innocent farmers and a journalist. Further, Ashish was alleged to have ran away from the spot by escaping to the nearby sugarcane fields under cover of open fire of weapons.
In other FIR it was alleged that at the time of the incident, Ashish and his associates were on their way to welcome the dignitaries for the wrestling competition when they encountered the protesting farmers on the spot. It was stated that the farmers stopped the vehicle in which the complainant was travelling and started assaulting the occupants. The complainant has further alleged that he somehow managed to escape the assailants' clutch, while his other co-occupants continued to be assaulted. Three persons died at the spot as a result of the said assault.
The Court said that for the same incident there are two completely different narratives which necessitate a full-blown trial to scourge out the actual facts.
The Court said that principles of procedural fairness require these allegations to be proven in trial proceedings. In the present case, charges have been framed, and Ashish has been 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, the trial cannot be expected to be concluded that early.
The Court said that it is imperative to balance the rights of Petitioner's liberty emanating under Article 21 of the Constitution of India vis-à-vis the State's right to ensure a fair and proper trial and safeguard the legitimate outcry of the victim of crime.
The Court said that, in view of two diametrically opposite versions, both supported by their respective investigation reports, it is not inclined to express any final opinion as regard to Ashish Mishra's right to seek regular bail at this stage. Thus, issued certain interim directions.
Further, in exercise of its suo motu constitutional powers, extend the benefit of interim liberty to the four undertrial accused involved in the other version of the FIR also.
The matter will next be taken up on 14-03-2023
[Ashish Mishra v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 86, decided on 25-01-2023]
*Apoorva Goel, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief