Read Judgment: Jagjeet Singh & Ors v. Ashish Mishra @ Monu & Anr
New Delhi, April 19, 2022: Expressing disappointment with the manner in which the Allahabad High Court had failed to acknowledge the right of the victims of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case,the Supreme Court has set aside the order of the High Court granting bail to the main accused.
The Larger Bench of Chief Justice N.V.Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli was hearing an appeal challenging the order passed by Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court,whereby the first Respondent-Accused had been enlarged on bail in a case under Sections 147, 148, 149, 302, 307, 326 r/w Sections 34 and 120-B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 as well as Sections 3, 25 and 30 of the Arms Act, 1959.
It was alleged in this case that several farmers had gathered in the Khairaitya village in Lakhimpur Kheri District on September 29, 2021, 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 Mr. Ajay Mishra @ Teni, Union Minister of State for Home. In the course of the meeting, the farmers decided to organise a protest against Mr. Ajay Mishra in his ancestral village on October 3.10.2021.
An annual Dangal Competition was organized which was to be attended by Mr. Ajay Mishra, as well as Mr. Keshav Prasad Maurya, Deputy Chief Minister of the State of Uttar Pradesh, for whom a helipad was constructed in the playground of Maharaja Agrasen Inter College, Tikonia. A crowd of farmers started gathering near the helipad in the morning where the dignitaries were supposed to arrive but the aforementioned conditions led the authorities to take recourse to yet another alternative way to reach the Dangal venue.
Meanwhile, some attacks were made by the farmers and it was alleged that upon gathering knowledge of these events, coupled with the information that the route of the Chief Guest had to be changed because of the protesting farmers, Respondent-Accused became agitated and he along with his his aides, left the Dangal venue in a Mahindra Thar SUV, a Fortuner vehicle and a Scorpio vehicle, and drove towards the farmers protest site. When the farmers were returning to their homes after their protest was over, the Respondent-Accused along with his associates who were in the aforesaid three vehicles, 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. The Thar vehicle was eventually stopped. The first Respondent and his co-accused Sumit Jaiswal then stepped out of the Thar and escaped by running towards a nearby field while taking cover by firing their weapons. As a consequence of this incident, four farmers, one journalist, the driver of the Thar Vehicle-Hariom, and two others, were killed. Nearly ten farmers suffered major and minor injuries.
In the FIR which was registered, it was alleged that the first Respondent-accused along with his accomplices drove into the crowd of protesting farmers and crushed them. It was further alleged that one Sukhvinder Singh died on the spot due to a firearm injury. Another FIR was registered by Sumit Jaiswal against unknown persons and protesting farmers for having killed four persons, including the journalist Raman Kashyap, the driver of the Thar vehicle–Hariom and two other supporters of the Respondent-Accused.
Meanwhile, a PIL was filed in this Court and a reconstituted SIT filed a chargesheet wherein, the Respondent-Accused was found to be the main perpetrator of the events Then, the Accused-Respondent moved an application for bail before the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad, Lucknow Bench and the High Court allowed the application and granted regular bail to the Respondent-Accused. Discontented with this order of the High Court, the aggrieved victims filed this appeal.
Observing that it is the solemn duty of a court to deliver justice before the memory of an injustice eclipses, the Bench said, “…in the present case, the victims have been denied a fair and effective hearing at the time of granting bail to the Respondent- Accused.”
The Bench emphasized that a Court, while deciding an application for bail, should refrain from evaluating or undertaking a detailed assessment of evidence, as the same is not a relevant consideration at the threshold stage. While a Court may examine prima facie issues, including any reasonable grounds whether the accused committed an offence or the severity of the offence itself, an extensive consideration of merits which has the potential to prejudice either the case of the prosecution or the defence, is undesirable, added the Bench.
Opining that no accused can be subjected to unending detention pending trial, especially when the law presumes him to be innocent until proven guilty, the Bench also referred to its judgment in Union of India v. K.A. Najeeb and observed that even where statutory provisions expressly bar the grant of bail, such as in cases under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, this Court has expressly ruled that after a reasonably long period of incarceration, or for any other valid reason, such stringent provisions will melt down, and cannot be measured over and above the right of liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution
Affirming that the High Court had adopted a myopic view of the evidence on the record and enumerating various factors such as 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, the Apex Court observed that it can rightfully cancel the bail, without depriving the Respondent- Accused of his legitimate right to seek enlargement on bail on relevant considerations.
The Bench asserted, “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. Moreover, the observations on merits of a case when the trial has yet to commence, are likely to have an impact on the outcome of the trial proceedings.
The Top Court also added few words of caution by saying that if the aforestated incident, has happened in the manner as alleged, the same should serve as an awakening call to the State authorities to reinforce adequate protection for the life, liberty, and properties of the eye/injured witnesses, as well as for the families of the deceased.
Thus the Apex Court canceled the bail bonds of the respondent/accused and asked the High Court to decide the bail application afresh expeditiously, and preferably within a period of three months.