The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Uttar Pradesh government to identify more eyewitnesses in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case, Live Law reported. The court also told the state government to provide protection to the witnesses.

The bench comprising Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli expressed surprise when advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, said only 23 eyewitnesses had been identified so far.

“Out of 68, [the statements of] 30 witnesses have been recorded under 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,” the lawyer told the court, according to Bar and Bench. “Of these 23 are eyewitnesses.”

Eight people, including four farmers, were killed in Lakhimpur Kheri district on October 3 during a protest against the Centre’s three new farm laws.

Farmer bodies have alleged that a vehicle belonging to Ashish Mishra, the son of Union minister Ajay Mishra, had run over protestors. Ashish Mishra was arrested on October 9, a day after the Supreme Court had pulled up the Uttar Pradesh government on the matter.

At Tuesday’s hearing, the chief justice pointed out that there were of hundreds of farmers at the protest. “Only 23 people [eyewitnesses] were there?” Ramana asked Salve.

The Uttar Pradesh government’s counsel told the court: “We gave an advertisement. The people who saw the ones in the car...are already there. A large no of digital media has been recovered. There are overlapping videos.”

During the hearing, the Supreme Court asked the Uttar Pradesh government to file separate replies on the inquiry related to the killing of journalist Raman Kashyap and another person, identified as Shyam Sundar, reported ANI.

The court also verbally asked forensic labs to expedite the procedure of submitting the reports related to the videos of the violence.

The top court has rebuked the Uttar Pradesh government multiple times for lapses and delays in the investigation.

The case will be heard next on November 8.

UP government ‘dragging its feet’

The Supreme Court had taken up the Lakhimpur Kheri case on October 7 after two lawyers sought its intervention in the matter.

On October 8, the Supreme Court had said that it was not satisfied with the steps taken by the Uttar Pradesh government in the investigation of the violence.

However, Ramana had observed that an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation is not a solution because of the persons involved.

At the last hearing on October 20, the court had observed said the Uttar Pradesh government appeared to be “dragging its feet” in the investigation into the violence.

The court also questioned why the statements of only four out of 44 witnesses had been recorded. It sought to know why the prosecution did not seek police custody of six accused persons who have been in judicial custody.