Countering claims that CBI Judge J T Utpat, who was assigned the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, was transferred out during the pendency of the trial more than three years ago, in violation of a Supreme Court order, the Maharashtra government told the apex court Friday that the trial had not begun when the judge was shifted.
The assertion was made by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi during a hearing on petitions seeking a probe into the death of CBI judge B H Loya in 2014. Loya took over the case after the transfer in June 2014 of Utpat to Pune. According to official records, Loya died of a heart attack in Nagpur on December 1, 2014.
Questioning the transfer, the petitioners had cited a Supreme Court ruling, directing one judge to conduct the entire fake encounter trial.
Taking on senior advocate Indira Jaising, who was appearing for one of the petitioners, Rohatgi said, “They do not even do their homework. They damn the High Court Administrative Committee… transfer happened in 2014. Trial started only few months ago… do they even know what a trial is?”
Jaising had questioned the “tearing hurry” behind the decision to transfer Utpat to Pune. “Why did they not seek the leave of the Supreme Court?” she asked.
Referring to four Bombay judges who had submitted statements to police on Loya’s death, Rohatgi said, “If the four judges are to be believed, this case has to end today… This is not any intervention… Submission shows there is some other motive”.
Visibly upset, Jaising countered: “Yes, I have a motive. Are you satisfied?” Rohatgi responded: “Yes, your petition is motivated, baseless and based on yellow journalism.”
Jaising highlighted what she claimed were contradictions in the police and medical reports related to the Judge’s death and said the statement given by judge R R Rathi “appears to be the one of the most credible as of now.”
Rathi, she pointed out, had said that no ECG could be done at the Dande hospital where Loya was taken first after he suffered the heart attack as the nodes of the machine were broken. “There are grave reasons to suspect that all is not well… We don’t know if he died of heart attack,” said Jaising.
Seeking a court-monitored independent investigation, she said, “It’s a matter of utmost public importance… Public agencies have not done their duty.” While any one situation by itself may not be raise any suspicion, they cumulatively do, she said.
Jaising said that in cases of cardiac problems, clinical and family history were important facts. Loya’s sister had claimed that no member of the family suffered from any cardiac problems and that he too was healthy, she said.
Jaising argued that the statements of relatives that they have no suspicion was of no relevance and must be ignored. “There were reasons to suspect that these were obtained under duress and amounts to intervention in justice,” Jaising said.
Referring to the statement by Loya’s sister that no judge accompanied Loya’s body, she said this was also corroborated by an interview given by one of the judges to The Indian Express. Speaking to this newspaper, Justice Bhushan Gavai had said that the car in which they were accompanying the body had broken down and hence there was a delay.
Jaising said she was highlighting this point only to show that the sister’s words were credible and that her demand for a probe should not be dismissed entirely.
Jaising alleged that Dr Prashant Rathi, whom the body was handed over to, was no blood relative of Loya. “He was only Loya’s uncle’s brother-in-law… so how can police hand over the dead body to him who in turn hands it over to the family?” she said.
Responding to Rohatgi’s objections, she said it was not her duty to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt, but that of the investigators.
Jaising said even a retired judge had written to the Bombay High Court Chief Justice demanding a probe into the circumstances leading to Loya’s death. But Rohatgi said this was done on the same day a report in Caravan magazine alleged that the death occurred in suspicions circumstances.
Judge Loya’s death came under the spotlight last November following the Caravan report in which Loya’s sister and other relatives raised questions over the circumstances surrounding the death.
A subsequent investigation by The Indian Express revealed that crucial claims in the report — “the ECG was not working”, someone unknown to the family picked up the body, the judge was virtually abandoned after his death and that his body was sent to his village home unescorted — were not supported by evidence on the ground, including official records.