THE PETITIONERS demanding an independent probe into the death of CBI Special Judge B H Loya in 2014 claimed in the Supreme Court Friday that there were contradictions in the statements of four judges recorded by Maharashtra police in the matter. A bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud told senior advocate Dushyant Dave appearing for the Bombay Lawyers Association that it was “considering the evidence” put forth by him.
However, the bench said that the way “sometimes individuals including some good ones react in a calamity, someone else may feel they could have reacted differently, but their conduct cannot be said to have a bearing on the truth”.
The bench made the comments when Dave sought to question the conduct of the judges who were said to have accompanied Loya to hospital. Dave claimed that “there are very serious contradictions on the face of the record”. He alleged that none of the four judges had accompanied Loya to the hospital the night he died.
According to official records, Loya, 48, died of a heart attack in Nagpur on December 1, 2014, 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.
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. “Why should he have been the informer and why didn’t one of the judges do this?” Dave said.
Pointing to alleged inconsistencies in the dates and time appearing on various documents related to Loya’s death, Dave alleged that many of them were “fabricated” as an “afterthought” to obviate the truth. “There is also falsification of records by police,” Dave alleged.
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 and the trial in the case is expected to begin next week. The CBI is yet to appeal against Shah’s discharge.
Dave said the Loya matter was initially dealt with by the Sitamarhi police station, but subsequent records show the name of Sadar Police station. Appearing for the Maharashtra government, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi said Sadar police station appeared in the documents because the body was sent for post-mortem to the government hospital within that station’s limits.
Rohatgi alleged that “there is something more to the present petitions than what meets the eye”. “This exactly is the objective,” he exclaimed later, when a lawyer for the petitioners targeted Shah.
To Dave’s argument that Loya’s family was kept in the dark about the death, Rohatgi said the CBI judge’s wife had recorded a statement that one of the judges with her husband had spoken to her at 5 am to inform her about his condition.
Dave 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”.
“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,” said Dave.
Rohatgi responded that when a body is brought to a hospital, it is not sent to the morgue straightaway. Attempts are made to resuscitate and only when it fails is he/she declared brought dead and hence the tests, he said.
Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, who has intervened in the case, contended that there were several instances of overwriting 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.
Rohatgi said he had all the originals and would produce them in court.
Dave also sought to link the Sohrabuddin case to the Loya case, following which the court made clear that it was only concerned about the death of the judge in the pending petitions. The arguments will continue on February 5.
The death came under the spotlight last November following a report in Caravan magazine in which Loya’s sister and other close relatives raised questions over the circumstances surrounding the death.
A subsequent investigation by The Indian Express revealed that crucial claims in the Caravan report were not supported by evidence on the ground, including official records. Besides, two judges of the Bombay High Court, Justice Bhushan Gavai and Justice Sunil Shukre, who went to the hospital where Loya was admitted and made arrangements for the transport of the body, told The Indian Express that there was nothing about the circumstances of the death to raise any suspicion.
The petitioners claimed the circumstances surrounding the death were “questionable, mysterious and contradicting” and demanded a fair probe into the incident.