Let me start shaking my pen by first and foremost pointing out that the Supreme Court on January 22 said that the court “can’t rest” its “hands” on the death of CBI Special Judge BH Loya in 2014 in view of the controversy swirling around it since a long time ever since it was first reported in the Caravan magazine. The death of Loya came under the spotlight in November 2017 following a report in Caravan magazine in which Loya’s sister and other close relatives raised questions over the circumstances surrounding the death. The Supreme Court demanded the original records on his death to have a look at the circumstances which led to his death. This it felt imperative to understand the exact reasons which led to his untimely death.
According to official records, Judge Loya, 48, died of a massive heart attack in Nagpur on December 1, 2014 that is a day after he attended the wedding and reception of the daughter of fellow Judge Swapna Joshi who is now a Judge in the Bombay High Court. But there have been media reports pointing at several inconsistencies in the factual scenario surrounding his sudden and untimely demise! This is what many feel need to be probed.
At the time of his death, Loya was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case in which BJP President Amit Shah was one of the accused. Shah was later discharged from the case within a month after Loya died on December 30, 2014. and the trial in the case is expected to begin next week. The CBI is yet to appeal against Shah’s discharge.
Needless to say, the petitioners who are demanding an independent probe into the death of CBI Special Judge BH Loya claimed in the Supreme Court that there were contradictions in the statements of four Judges recorded by Maharashtra police in the matter. A three-Judge Bench led by CJI Dipak Misra on 22 January dubbed the case “serious”. It also said that it would look at all the records.
Truth be told, Justice DY Chandrachud minced no words in making it clear that, “Let it never be on our conscience that we didn’t look at what we should have. We must look at facts. We would like to see everything.” He also said that, “This case involves serious issues. We have to deal with it with a certain degree of objectivity.” Rightly said!
As it turned out, the Bench on 22 January withdrew all the cases pertaining to Judge Loya’s death to itself. The Supreme Court restrained all other courts from dealing with the issue. CJI Dipak Misra waived all procedural technicalities to refuse to issue notice to any party. He said that, “Notice? Why? Who to? The state is here.”
Going forward, the CJI also rejected a plea by Maharashtra to restrain lawyers from sharing any material with the press. He said that, “We will not pass any gag orders. These are now records of the court.” Opening the arguments, Maharashtra counsel and former Solicitor General of India – Harish Salve claimed that after the recent media reports suggesting that it was not a natural death a second discreet inquiry was done with the Bombay High Court Chief Justice’s consent and that inquiry had not thrown up anything. This is a very significant event and cannot be brushed aside lightly!
Not stopping here, Salve also urged the court to tread cautiously reminding the Bench that the case involved many serving judicial officers, including some elevated to the High Court. Former Supreme Court Bar Association President Dushyant Dave while appearing for the Bombay Lawyers Association which had gone to the Bombay High Court seeking a probe into the death, immediately contested the report. He claimed that “there are very serious contradictions on the face of the record”.
To be sure, Dave alleged that none of the four Judges had accompanied Loya to the hospital the night he died. Dave was baffled to see that not a single Judge accompanied Loya to the hospital inspite of seeing him suffering such a massive heart attack! He also demanded to know why the Judge’s security had been withdrawn in the days preceding his death and contested the entry register of the place he had allegedly last stayed citing RTI replies.
Simply put, Dave said police records show that Dr Prashant Rathi, who claimed to be a relative of Loya, had informed police about the death of the Judge. He asked that, “Why should he have been the informer and why didn’t one of the Judges do this?” There is some merit in what Dave has said!
As if this was not enough, Dave said the Loya matter was initially dealt with by the Sitamarhi police station but subsequent records show the name of Sadar police station. He also questioned why Loya was not taken to reputed hospitals like the Lata Mangeshkar hospital and sought to question the bills raised at Meditrina hospital where Loya was declared “brought dead”. He said that, “The bills were raised under the head of non-invasive lab, neurosurgery, etc., while the police case was that Loya was brought dead to Meditrina.”
Truly speaking, Dave said that, “There is sufficient evidence to show Loya never stayed at the guest house. On November 24, 2014, Loya’s security was withdrawn in Mumbai. Why were Loya’s family members not called to the hospital? There are serious contradictions which require a deeper, independent probe. No one has a personal interest in this case.” He also said that, “It is sad that Justice Mohit Shah transferred the first judge in the Sohrabuddin trial. The second judge (Loya) died. The third judge acquitted Amit Shah and others within a month of Loya’s death.” Senior advocates Indira Jaising and Rakesh Khanna too supported the stand taken by Dave.
Elaborating further, Dave asked: “The Sohrabuddin Sheikh case trial is being held in camera. Why?” He demanded to know why there was secrecy over the documents relating to Judge Loya’s death when two High Court Judges had already addressed a press conference claiming it was a natural death. He repeated Amit Shah’s name several times, prompting Harish Salve to protest.
To put things in perspective, Harish Salve said that, “The case is unnecessarily being politicized.” Salve urged the court not to allow any references to Shah. But Dave persisted saying that, “Why should a case not be discussed because it involved someone high?”
Bluntly put, Salve said categorically that, “Let’s not cast aspersions by saying things against a person who holds public office.” Dave retaliated by saying that if cases on Shashi Tharoor and P Chidambaram could be discussed publicly, why not that of Shah? Salve said two district judges had accompanied Loya for the marriage reception in Nagpur and they stayed together in a guest house where in the wee hours of December 1, 2014, Loya suffered a massive heart attack.
Salve also said that, “Loya was taken by the two district judges in a car to a hospital and then to another hospital and then to another. These two judges were later joined by another two district judges. All of them have given statements during the discreet inquiry that they had been with Loya all along during his last hours and that there was no foul play or suspicion about the nature of his death.” “The claim in the media report that Loya was taken to hospital in a three-wheeler was completely baseless as the judges have stated in their statements that Loya was taken in a car to the hospital,” Salve said, adding that the then Bombay High Court Chief Justice Mohit Shah was informed about the developments on a real time basis and the Chief Justice had taken steps for adequate medical help to Loya, who could not be revived. Eventually, the Supreme Court asked the Maharashtra state to produce the complete, original records on Judge Loya’s death.
It cannot be lightly dismissed that senior advocate Indira Sawhney who has intervened in the case contended that there were several “overwritings” on the records. She said that the court must summon the original documents, including the register of Ravi Bhavan where the Judges stayed the night of his death, to ascertain their veracity.
It is most shocking to learn that Dave even alleged conflict of interest against Salve for having appeared for BJP President Amit Shah who is an accused in the Sohrabuddin case and now representing the BJP-ruled Maharashtra. The CJI-led Bench said that, “We are looking at the circumstances in which Loya died. Let it not be deflected by personal allegations.” Rightly said!
Alleging that the entire “institution” was out to protect Shah, Dave pointed out serious inconsistencies in the records presented by the State and hinted at a larger conspiracy that could possibly be at work to save Shah. The Supreme Court, however, asked Dave not to cast aspersions as on date records suggested that Loya had died a natural death. Unless and until there is substantial evidence against anyone, the lawyers must desist from making sweeping allegations against anyone!
Of course, hurt by Dave’s diatribe alleging conflict of interest, Harish Salve hit back at the former saying that, “Only some people are concerned about the death while there are some who are using the death of a Judge for other reasons.” As allegations flew thick and fast, the Bench also comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud intervened and asked Dave to lower his voice. Dave had heated arguments with Salve.
Let me hasten to add here that Justice Chandrachud assured both sides of a fair hearing. Speaking for the Supreme Court Bench, he said that, “We are looking into the circumstances that led to a district judge’s death which is a serious issue. Let us look at the matter with a sense of objectivity and not allow the real issue to be deflected by arguments of conflict of interest. Each of you is the judge of his own conscience. We like to see every record and won’t restrict our attention to only those records produced by state.” The court asked both the parties to file documents in a sealed cover. The Apex Court rightly said that, “The issue raised is serious. We must look into the documents with some seriousness. We need objective assistance from counsel, including from Dave.”
All said and done, unless the Supreme Court indicts anyone in this case while delivering its judgment, it shall not be fair on our part to pronounce judgment against anyone because we are not the right person to pronounce verdict against or in favour of anyone. Amit Shah is the BJP President and he too has the right to reputation and the right not to be defamed by anyone. We all must keep our fingers crossed until and unless Supreme Court finally pronounces its verdict on this high profile case! I am sure that truth shall ultimately prevail here also!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.