The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed petitions seeking an independent probe into the death of special CBI judge Brijmohan Harikishan Loya, who was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. The apex court, ruling that the death was due to “natural causes”, observed that the petitioners tried to scandalise the judiciary. A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, pronounced its verdict after hearing a clutch of petitions.
Records show that Loya died of a heart attack in Nagpur, Maharashtra, on December 1, 2014. The petitioners, however, had moved the top court alleging he died under “mysterious” circumstances. At the time of his death in 2014, he was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh “fake encounter” case, in which BJP president Amit Shah was named an accused. Shah was later acquitted in the case.
What the Supreme Court said?
Announcing the order, the top court said that the petitions were a “veiled attempt to launch a frontal attack on the independence of the judiciary” and that “there is no reason to doubt the statements of sitting Judge.” The bench also said that the “petitioners’ conduct prima-facie constitutes criminal contempt,” but the court “would spare them of any contempt action.”
Pronouncing the verdict, the apex court said that attempts were made to scandalise the judiciary by levelling serious allegations against judicial officers and judges of the Bombay High Court. There is no reason to doubt statements of four judges on circumstances leading to the death of Loya and the documents placed on record and their scrutiny establishes that Loya’s death was due to natural cause, the SC bench said.
READ | Top quotes of the judgment
Reactions to the judgment
Reacting to the Supreme Court’s judgment, Congress said the judgment has left many questions unanswered and marks a sad day in India’s history.
“The verdict marks a sad day in India’s history. The Supreme Court verdict has left many questions unanswered.There were discrepancies in the post-mortem report, even in recording the name of the victim properly,” Congress media in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala said.
Asserting that the Congress reiterates demand for an independent and fair probe into Judge Loya’s death, Surjewala said the issue of criminality or lack of it can only be decided through an investigation.
Rahul Gandhi ‘invisible hand’ behind Loya PILs, should apologise: BJP
The BJP alleged that Congress president Rahul Gandhi was the “invisible hand” behind the petitions and demanded an apology from him and Sonia Gandhi for defaming its top leadership. The Congress president had tried to use the judiciary for the character assassination of the BJP chief, party spokesperson Sambit Patra said.
His colleague and Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi added that the Supreme Court verdict had demolished the Congress’ efforts to defame the BJP’s top leadership and the party, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi should apologise for the “sin”.
Rahul Gandhi should not fight political battles through corridors of court: Ravi Shankar Prasad
Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad welcomed the verdict and alleged that the case was not activated to serve public interest but to serve the interests of Congress and damage the interests of BJP and its chief Amit Shah in particular.
“The court said political battles must be fought on political grounds. It clearly means that the case was fought as political battle against our party President Amit Shah. I urge Rahul Gandhi not to fight political battles through corridors of court,” said Prasad.
If you’re doubting credentials of the Judiciary, then you are also doubting the credentials of all the investigations & evidences. I think Rahul Gandhi should apologise to Amit Shah: Dr Jitendra Singh, MoS PMO, on #JudgeLoya verdict pic.twitter.com/GBasIAd7ni
— ANI (@ANI) April 19, 2018
Order shows judiciary cannot be misled: Rajnath Singh
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the apex court’s order in the case has sent out a clear message that the judiciary cannot be “misled” by allegations based on political vendetta.
The minister, who posted a series of tweets, also came down heavily on “several attempts” to target the BJP and its top leaders through “fake” cases. “It is extremely unfortunate that there have been several attempts of targeting the BJP and assassinating the character of its top leaders on the basis of ‘fake facts’. These attempts have failed miserably once again,” he said on Twitter.
The home minister said the order has also raised serious questions on the intention of filing such PILs. “The Supreme Court has also cautioned against the misuse of courts in political tug of war. The SC verdict gives a clear message that the judiciary can not be misled by allegations based on political vendetta,” Singh said.
The SC while dismissing the petition seeking independent Investigation into Judge Loya’s death, said that “Judges can’t lie. Their word must be treated to be the gospel truth. Anyone who questions judges is guilty of contempt”! Judges in their own cause? https://t.co/fIfk7NmcoS
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) April 19, 2018
Petitions seeking probe in the case filed with vested interests: Mukul Rohatgi
Former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said the pleas seeking probe into the death of Loya were filed with vested interests and the purpose was to attack the functioning of the government.
Welcoming the apex court, Rohatgi said: “The very fact that the judge died in the company of his colleagues shows that there is nothing wrong in the matter. The manner in which these cases were argued is a classic case of contempt. There are vested interests because they want to attack people collaterally and they used the judge for this purpose. This is unacceptable.”
He also attacked the Caravan magazine which came out with the reports on judge Loya’s death more than three years after he passed away, saying that “the magazine has made untruthful statements.” “All the facts are wrong. If a probe was ordered it would mean those 3-4 judges who were with judge Loya that evening are telling lies. Can we allow that? Our judges are made of different metal, we cannot let this doubt prevail on our judges. “To believe that judges were speaking a lie is completely absurd. Why should anybody doubt them? I hope these kind of things are not repeated. This is not in line with the traditions of the Supreme Court,” he said.
Chronological order of events taking place in the case
December 1, 2014: BS Loya dies of cardiac arrest in Nagpur, where he had gone to attend the wedding of a colleague’s daughter.
November 2017: Issue comes under spotlight after media reports quote his sister fuelling suspicion about the circumstances surrounding Loya’s death and its link to the Sohrabuddin case.
January 11, 2018: Supreme Court agrees to hear two pleas seeking independent probe into Loya’s death.
January 12, 2018: Supreme Court terms “serious matter” the alleged mysterious death of Loya, seeks response from Maharashtra government.
January 16, 2018: Supreme Court says Maharashtra government can decide which documents relating to the death of Loya could be handed over to the petitioners.
January 22, 2018: Terming “serious” the issues raised in the pleas on death of Loya, SC transfers to itself two petitions related to Loya’s death from Bombay High Court.
January 31, 2018: Former Navy chief Admiral (retd) L Ramdas moves the Supreme Court seeking an independent inquiry into the matter by a panel of retired apex court judges and former police officers.
February 2, 2018: Supreme Court says it was concerned only with the death of Loya and would not go into other aspects including Amit Shah’s discharge in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case.
February 5, 2018: A Mumbai lawyers’ body decides to petition the Supreme Court, seeking cross-examination of 11 people, including two judges, in connection with Loya’s death.
Febraury 9, 2018: Maharashtra government opposes pleas seeking independent probe into the matter, terming them “motivated” and based on “yellow journalism”.
Febraury 12, 2018: Maharashtra government tells Supreme Court the statements of four judges, who were with Loya on the last day of his life and had termed his death “natural”, were “unimpeachable”.
February 19, 2018: Supreme Court says it was treating Loya’s case with utmost seriousness and for a cause. The same day senior advocates for petitioners say pressure being exerted on them to leave the case.
March 5, 2018: Supreme Court says change of roster in Bombay High Court a “routine affair”, adds questions should not be raised over the change in the judge hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case in the high court.
March 8, 2018: Supreme Court takes umbrage over accusation by senior lawyer for casting aspersions on judges that they were only asking “searching questions” to those who brought the Loya death case before it, and not to the Maharashtra government.
March 9, 2018: Maharashtra government comes down heavily on alleged accusations, bullying and browbeating of judges in the Supreme Court by some activist lawyers in the Loya death case and said the judiciary and judicial officers need to be saved from such averments.
March 9, 2018: Centre for Public Interest Litigation, an intervenor NGO in the case, says Loya may have died due to poisoning as he had complained of chest congestion.
March 12, 2018: A Mumbai-based lawyers’ body brings on record in Supreme Court an order of the Bombay High Court to allege that one of the two judges, who had given statement in the Loya death case, had ordered settlement of a criminal case against a top BJP leader in 2014.
March 16, 2018: Supreme Court reserves verdict on pleas for probe into Loya’s death
April 19, 2018: Supreme Court dismisses pleas seeking an independent probe into the case, saying attempts were made to scandalise and malign the judiciary by levelling serious allegations against judicial officers and judges of Bombay High Court.
(With inputs from PTI and ANI)
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