Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lalit Narayan Mishra Murder Mystery Remains Unresolved Even After 37 Years

Note:In his autobiography, Beyond The Lines, Kuldip Nayar writes:Lalit Narayan Mishra
Death Foretold
"She (Indira Gandhi) realised her credibility was low; she said at a meeting to condole the death of L.N. Mishra (the rail minister killed in a bomb attack in Samastipur), “Even if I were to be killed, they would say that I myself had got it done.” Mishra was a dear friend. He rang me up at midnight before going to Samastipur that he had handed his resignation to her personally. He sadly remarked that he’d be killed at Samastipur and put down the phone. It proved to be true. He was murdered at Samastipur the following day. The murder mystery has not been resolved to this day."

Lalit Narayan Mishra was Minister of Railways in the government of India from 1973 to 1975. He was brought into politics by the first Chief Minister of Bihar, Krishna Sinha, when he was made parliamentary secretary at his insistence to the First Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. As Minister of Railways, he visited Samastipur on 2 January 1975 to declare open Samastipur-Muzaffarpur broad gauge railway line. A bomb explosion on the dais, seriously injured him. He was rushed to the railway hospital at Danapur where he died next day. The probe in his death still remains unresolved.

It has been argued as to why he was taken from Samastipur to a small railway hospital in Danapur almost 150 km metres away when better medical facilities were available just 30 minutes away at Dharbangha still remains a question. And then why wasn’t the train carrying him made to stop at Patna where he could have got better treatment? It was also alleged that the train was held up at several places, delaying treatment that could have saved Mishra. why was he put on an ordinary passenger train when Rail Ministers have personal saloon cars at their disposal

Like in the matter of death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, former Prime Minsiter, no post mortem was ever carried out on Mishra's body.

Mishra was born at Basanpatti in Saharsa district. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1964 to 1966 then in 1966 to 1972. He held various posts in the party and government. He was Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Planning, Labour and Employment (1957–60), Deputy Minister for Home Affairs (1964–66), Deputy Finance Minister (1966–67), Minister of State for Defence Production (1967–70). From 1970 till February 4, 1973 he was Minister of Foreign Trade. On 5 February 1973 he was made Cabinet Minister of Railways by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

As a Minister of Foreign Trade, he was one of the first to recognize the potential of the current Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh and appointed him as his adviser at the Ministry of Foreign Trade. Their first meeting happened coincidentally on an India-US-Chile flight. Mishra the minister for commerce (then called minister for foreign trade) was on his way to Santiago, Chile, to attend a meeting of UNCTAD.

Indira Gandhi blamed "foreign elements" for Mishra's murder. Mishra was believed to be the key fund collector for the party. He had taken on stalwarts of the Congress to make his way into the Congress Working Party days before the grenade attack.

Mishra's wife Kameshwari Mishra has announced that the Anand Margis being held for her husband's murder are innocent. She is willing to name the real culprits before a new commission. The eight accused in the case are Santosh Anand, Sudevanand, Gopalji, Ranjan Dwivedi, Dinyanand, Ram Kumar, Ramasray and Arthanand. Arthanand has died.

Gopalji, Ram Kumar and Ramasray are absconding and have been declared proclaimed offenders. The seven accused who are alive are now said to be in their 60s. A total of 151 witnesses have been examined. The case was also the first in the country to have been transferred outside the state by the Supreme Court for fear of destruction of evidence.

She has rejected the CBI investigation as "politically motivated " and have dubbed the K K Mathew Commission report an "eyewash".

Ranjan Dwivedi, a Supreme Court lawyer and one of the accused, has sent appeals to the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and other top leaders for withdrawal of the case and has filed writ petitions in the High Court for squashing the findings of the K K Mathew Commission.

The commission in its findings claimed that D. P. Ojha, the then Supretendent of Police of Samastipur District, did not carry out the investigation properly. It has also been alleged that the then Prime Minister had called on the then Home Secretary of Bihar to inquire about the transfer of one of the officers looking into the matter.

Ranjan's American wife, Patricia, has met the Prime Minister and the home minister.

Is 37-year delay a ground for acquittal in L.N. Mishra case?

The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed its anguish at the 37-year delay in the trial of murder of the then Railway Minister L.N. Mishra at Samastipur in Bihar and decided to examine whether this could be a ground for acquittal of the accused.

A Bench of Justices H.L. Dattu and C.K. Prasad, while indicating to senior counsel T.R. Andhyarujina that it would examine the larger question, expressed apprehension that if a reasoning of inordinate delay and systemic failure (in the judiciary) was advanced, it could be used in future by an intelligent accused for thwarting a trial and it would set a bad precedent.

The trial of the January 2, 1975 killing was transferred from Samastipur to Delhi in 1979 on an application moved by the then Attorney-General. The charge sheet was filed against several people including advocate Ranjan Dwivedi and Sudevananda Avadhuta. However, even after 33 years the case is yet to conclude in the sessions court.

The Bench earlier issued notice to the Central Bureau of Investigation, asking it to explain the delay.

During the resumed hearing, Mr. Andhyarujina said: “This is a shocking case of travesty of justice and speedy trial. How can this trial be permitted to continue when there is no end in sight? The basic right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution has been violated. What is the meaning of speedy trial, when the delay, because of systemic failure, has knocked out the aspirations of life of the accused and his whole family? Whatever the reason for the delay, whether it is on the part of the accused or on the part of the prosecution, it is a fit case for acquittal as the delay has vitiated the entire proceedings.”

Justice Dattu told counsel: “We are also anguished at the delay due to the systemic failure. We agree with you that the accused had lost their prime youth and their family life is also lost. We know in many courts it takes 20 to 25 years for a criminal trial to reach finality. But can we [Supreme Court] give a finding of acquittal on the question of delay? We would be sending a wrong signal if we do so. Maybe an intelligent accused at a later stage will delay the trial for 20 or 25 years and take advantage of our order.”

Mr. Andhyarujina replied: “An accused taking advantage of his own delay cannot be allowed to have such a benefit. This is an extraordinary case and has no parallel in the history of criminal jurisprudence in any civilised country…Which civilised society can tolerate such a system which has dragged the trial for 37 years?”

The advocate, who was 27 at the time of arrest, was now 64 and he was also a heart patient. Of the 39 witnesses he had cited to prove his innocence, 31 died and four counsel who had argued the case also died, counsel pointed out.

Additional Solicitor-General Harin Raval, appearing for the CBI, attributed the delay to the accused filing revisions and appeals, and not extending cooperation in adducing evidence.

Justice Dattu told Mr. Andhyarujina: “We can examine your plea to consider the issue on the ground of delay. But it may take some time as we may have to collect details from various courts of how many cases are pending for how many years. If you [the accused and the prosecution] agree to cooperate to complete the trial without any adjournment, we can ask the trial court to conclude the trial in three months. What we say is only tentative. You consider this and address us tomorrow [Thursday].”

J. Venkatesan
Keywords: L.N. Mishra, 37-year-old case, Supreme Court anguish

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