By K I John
A press conference, held last Friday by four justices of the Supreme Court, was the latest in a series of incidents which point to cracks in the Indian judicial system. According to Justice Ranjan Gogoi, the press conference was called to address issues triggered by the death of special CBI Judge B H Loya. Two petitions asking for an investigation into the judge’s death were assigned to a bench that the Supreme Court judges reportedly disapproved of.
The press conference was held at the residence of Justice J Chelameswar, and also included Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph. Justice Chalameswar addressed the ongoing concerns about the court, “Sometimes, the administration of the Supreme Court is not in order. There are many things less than desirable that have happened in the last few months… As senior-most justices of the court, we have a responsibility to the nation and institution. We tried to persuade the CJI that some things are not in order and he needs to take remedial measures. Unfortunately, our efforts failed. We all believe that the SC must maintain its equanimity. Democracy will not survive without a free judiciary.”
Background to the B H Loya case
On the 1st of December 2014, 48-year old Justice Brijgopal Harkishan Loya died of cardiac arrest in Nagpur. He was the special Central Bureau of Investigation judge presiding over the trial of BJP president Amit Shah and several top Gujarat police officers for the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kauser Bi.
Justice Loya took over the Sohrabuddin case in June 2014 after the previous judge, J T Utpat, was taken off the trial. Judge Utpat had reprimanded Amit Shah for not appearing before the court for his alleged role in the killing. Shah was ordered to present himself before the court on June 26th, but on June 25th, 2014, Utpat was transferred to the Pune sessions court. Within 29 days of Loya’s death, a replacement judge ruled that Shah had no case to answer and that he was discharged from the case before the trial had even started.
Where the facts do not add up
An investigative report by Niranjan Takle of the ‘Caravan’ raises concerns about the story of Justice Loya’s subsequent death from cardiac arrest. Justice B H Loya was attending a colleague’s daughter’s wedding in Nagpur on the 30th of November. At around 4 AM on the morning of the 1st of December, he complained of chest pain and was taken to Dande hospital. According to reports, he was taken in an auto-rickshaw. The judge was subsequently taken to Meditrina Hospital where he was declared dead on arrival.
It is to be noted that the official time of Loya’s death is 6:15 AM. However, members of Loya’s family members told the ‘Caravan’ that they began receiving telephone calls regarding Loya’s death at around 5 AM. Other family members say they were only informed about Loya’s death after the post-mortem had been conducted. The post-mortem report was apparently signed by a paternal cousin of Loya’s, but his father told the ‘Caravan’ that he had no such relative in Nagpur at the time.
The ‘Caravan’ had quoted Loya’s sister Biyani saying that the family found blood stains on the judge’s shirt. Other family members also said that they saw there was an injury to his head. Loya’s family also told the ‘Caravan’ that his phone was returned two to three days after his death and that all the data had been deleted. Most importantly, the family claim that, prior to his death, Justice Loya was offered a bribe of Rs 100 Crore for a ‘favourable’ judgement.
Takle has said that Loya’s wife and son “feared for their lives” and are thus declining to speak to their reporter. However, the magazine did carry details of a letter written by the son to the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, asking that his father’s death be probed. Three years later, with claims and counter-claims over the controversial case piling up, the son’s plea for an independent investigation might well be the only way to settle this matter one way or another.
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