DELHI CHIEF Minister Arvind Kejriwal, leaders of the Congress and CPM, and former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A P Shah have called for a probe into the 2014 death of the CBI Special Judge in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. Their call follows a report in Caravan magazine last week that quotes a sister of the judge and his father suggesting foul play and a cover-up in the death of judge Brijmohan Harikishan Loya.
Loya, 48, records show, 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.
In the light of the report in Caravan, The Indian Express reconstructed the sequence of events by checking official hospital records, re-visiting eyewitnesses in Nagpur, Latur and Mumbai, including members of Loya’s family. It also spoke to doctors attending on Loya, police officials and two sitting judges of the Bombay High Court who were there at the hospital when Loya died.
The investigation revealed that crucial claims in the Caravan report — that “the ECG was not working”, that someone unknown to the family picked up the body, that the judge was virtually abandoned after his death and that his body was sent to his village home unescorted — are not supported by evidence on the ground, including official records.
Significantly, two judges of the Bombay High Court, Justice Bhushan Gavai and Justice Sunil Shukre, who both went to the hospital that day and made arrangements for the transport of the body, have spoken to The Indian Express to detail the sequence of events. Both judges said there was nothing about the circumstances of the death to raise any suspicion.
Loya then 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.
Chest pain, travel to Dande
After the wedding on November 30, 2014, Loya was at the Ravi Bhavan guest house in the Civil Lines Area of Nagpur when he complained of chest pain around 4 am on December 1.
Recalling the sequence of events, Justice Bhushan Gavai told The Indian Express: “Loya was staying with fellow judges Shridhar Kulkarni and Shriram Madhusudan Modak. He experienced a health problem around 4 am. (Local judge) Vijaykumar Barde and then Deputy Registrar of the Nagpur bench of the High Court Rupesh Rathi first took him to Dande Hospital (3 km from the guest house) in two cars.”
“There was no question of taking him in an autorickshaw (as mentioned in the Caravan report),” said Justice Shukre. “Judge Barde drove him to Dande Hospital in his own car.”
The Caravan report and judge’s sister question why no ECG was done at Dande Hospital, where the judge was taken around 4 am from his cottage at Ravi Bhavan government resthouse in the Civil Lines area.
Records, however, show that an ECG was, indeed, done at Dande Hospital, a copy of which has been obtained by The Indian Express.
When contacted, director of the hospital, Pinak Dande, told The Indian Express: “He was brought to our hospital around 4.45 am or 5 am. We are a 24-hour trauma centre. There was a resident medical officer at that time who checked him. It’s only after the ECG was taken that we realised he needed specialised cardiac treatment which is not available with us so we advised them to go to a bigger hospital. They went to Meditrina hospital.”
(Update: Asked why the ECG report mentioned the date as November 30, Dande said, “Brijmohan Loya was brought to our hospital on December 1 between 4.45 am and 5 am. After an ECG was taken by the resident medical officer, he was advised to be taken to a higher hospital where necessary cardiac treatment was available. The date November 30 appearing on the ECG may have been due to a technical glitch arising out of a machine calibration issue. We recalibrate our machines every three months or so to prevent such glitches. But sometimes the glitch may occur in the intervening period. We stand by the fact that the ECG was taken at our hospital on December 1.”)
Sameer Paltewar, Managing Director of Meditrina, declined to speak but Loya’s records at Meditrina accessed by The Indian Express show that he suffered “retrosternal chest pain and had collapsed” while being brought to the hospital.
Death at Meditrina, judges arrive
“Immediately, resuscitation was started after reaching to hospital. Emergency treatment of DC (direct current) shocks of 200 J was given multiple times. CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) continued as per protocol. But in spite of all efforts, patient couldn’t be revived,” the Meditrina file on Loya says.
It was Meditrina where the judges arrived. Speaking to The Indian Express, Justice Gavai said, “I got a call from the High Court Registrar. As the seniormost and administrative Judge of the High Court bench at Nagpur, I rushed to Meditrina hospital along with fellow judge Justice Sunil Shukre. I didn’t even wait for my driver and drove to the hospital. A few other judges followed, including then Chief Justice Mohit Shah, who had also attended the marriage of Swapna Joshi’s daughter. Loya’s life unfortunately couldn’t be saved. There was absolutely nothing suspicious about the death or the events around it.”
Said Justice Shukre: “Both Justice Gavai and I went to Meditrina. The then Chief Justice Mohit Shah was also in Nagpur so I called up his principal private secretary to inform him. By the time we reached the hospital, judge Loya was in the ICU. The Chief Justice also arrived at the hospital. All attempts were made to save his life but to no avail. Doctors did their best and the judges’ community did their best to help.”
The hospital authorities declared Loya dead shortly after 6 am on December 1 and advised a post-mortem to ascertain the cause of death.
The Caravan report claims that “the paternal cousin brother of the deceased” collected the body and quotes Loya’s father as saying: “I do not have any brother or paternal cousin brother in Nagpur…Who signed on the report is another unanswered question.”
The Indian Express tracked down the man who signed the report. He is Prashant Rathi, a doctor himself. It was Rathi who collected the body.
Recalling that morning, Rathi said that he got a call from his uncle (“mausa”) Rukmesh Pannalal Jakotia. “He said his cousin (judge Loya) had been admitted to Meditrina hospital and asked me to help him. When I reached the hospital, doctors told me he was no more. I conveyed this to my uncle. He asked me to take care of the formalities,” said Rathi.
Rathi added: “There were about seven to eight judges, including Justice Bhushan Gavai. The judges said a post-mortem needed to be done. A senior police official was called from the Sitabuldi police station for panchnama.”
Post-mortem, travel home
The post-mortem was done at the Government Medical College and Hospital in Nagpur between 10.55 am and 11.55 am. No evidence of any poison or foul play was recorded in the report.
Just before the post-mortem, a panchnama (an inventory of possessions) was conducted in the presence of two panches, Rajesh Dhande and Rameshwar Wankhede.
Rathi said that he was there until the post-mortem was done and signed on the requisite documents before the body was sent to Latur in an ambulance along with two officials and a police constable.
About finding blood stains on Loya’s body, as reported by Caravan, a senior government forensic expert said: “Blood is bound to spill out during post-mortem as we open all major cavities in the body. Sometimes, if small gaps remain in the sutures, blood might seep out.”
The Caravan report quotes Loya’s sister, Anuradha Biyani, as saying that Loya’s body was sent to Latur in an ambulance with only the driver accompanying it.
But Justice Gavai says otherwise.
“I had personally told then Principal District Judge K K Sonawane to send two judges along with the body,” said Justice Gavai. “The two judges were Yogesh Rahangdale and Swayam Chopda, both Civil Judges, Junior Division. An air-conditioned ambulance was arranged with provision of ice slabs in case the AC failed along the way.”
The car in which the judges followed was Rahangdale’s. A driver employed at the High Court drove them along with a traffic constable.
“The car developed a snag a little beyond Nanded,” said Justice Gavai. “When the ambulance reached Latur, fellow judges were present to receive it. The two accompanying judges reached late along with the constable Prashant Tulsiram Thakre.” The “snag,” sources said was a brush with another vehicle, which forced the car to stop for 15 minutes before it left for Gategaon.
After reaching Gategaon, a source said, the two judges met Loya’s father and attended the cremation at a farm near Loya’s house.