Official documents with new details regarding the purpose of the judge BH Loya’s visit to Nagpur in 2014 and the arrangements made for him have been released in response to Right to Information applications. The documents show that the government of Maharashtra concealed details of enormous importance to the Loya case in its submissions to the Supreme Court. The documents were not included in the report of a “discreet inquiry” carried out by the Maharashtra State Intelligence Department soon after Loya’s family went public with suspicions about his death, in 2017. The report was the basis for the Maharashtra government’s claim, accepted by the Supreme Court, that Loya died a natural death. The documents have been submitted to the Bombay High Court as part of a new Public Interest Litigation demanding official compensation for Loya’s family.
In an official letter—EST 1114/Q/2014—dated 27 November 2014, the Nagpur office of the department of law and judiciary wrote to the Public Works Division Number 1, under the local Public Works Department, about “reserving one V.I.P. Air-Conditioned Suit in Ravi Bhavan”—the government guest house where Loya is said to have been staying at the time of his death, on the night intervening 30 November and 1 December 2014. The letter, as per a translation submitted to the Bombay High Court, stated, “from Mumbai Hon’ble Shri B.J. Loya [sic] and Hon’ble Shri Vinay Joshi, these both District and Session Judges Mumbai, will be staying from early morning of 30.11.2014 till 7 am of 1.12.2014 for government work. It is requested that for their stay one V.I.P. Air Conditioned Suit with two cots be reserved.” A subsequent note from the additional engineer of the division to a booking clerk at Ravi Bhawan ordered him to “Give 1 suit in Building No.1.”
Neither Joshi nor Loya’s names appear in the occupancy register for Ravi Bhawan, which contains a record of all the rooms in use by guests at any given time. The Caravan earlier reported clear signs of manipulation in the register’s pages. For the dates in question, the register has entries for Rooms 2, 3 and 5—all in Building Number 1—without any information on when and by whom they might have been occupied. The fields for noting those particulars have been struck through. Such blank entries are strange, since an entry should only be created in the register when a room becomes occupied.
The letter’s indication that Loya was to travel to Nagpur “for government work” contradicts the State Intelligence Department’s assertion that “Judge Loya was in Nagpur to attend the wedding in the family of a colleague on 30 November 2014.” The SID report made no mention at all of an official trip, or of Vinay Joshi—who is currently the principal district judge of the Thane district court. It stated that Loya was in Nagpur “along with his colleagues, Judge Kulkarni and Judge Modak, both in the rank of Principal District Judges.” Modak, in a written statement to the SID, said that he, Kulkarni and Loya all stayed together in one room at Ravi Bhawan—where the standard furnishings for every room include only two beds. It remains unclear why they would do so if separate accommodation had already been arranged for Loya.
Vinay Joshi declined to speak on the matter when contacted by The Caravan. “Understand that I am serving in a department, understand that without permission I can’t speak anything,” he said. “The registrar general of Bombay High Court, if he permits, then I will talk to you.”
It is evident that the Maharasthra government’s submissions to the Supreme Court failed to relate the full story of how Loya’s trip to Nagpur came about. Testimony from Loya’s family indicates that the judge was unaware that he had an official trip coming up, and wanted to use the dates in question to travel to Latur, his home town, to visit an ailing nephew in hospital.
Loya left for Nagpur on 29 November 2014—two days after the letter stating that he would be making an official trip was issued. One of Loya’s sisters, Anuradha Biyani, earlier told The Caravan that Loya was persuaded to travel to Nagpur only on the day that he left, after his colleagues insisted, “You have to attend the wedding. We have made advance bookings for you.” Nupur Biyani, Loya’s niece, who also earlier spoke to The Caravan, said, “Everyone who was accompanying him [was] insisting.”
Additional records made available in response to an RTI application make it clear that both the purpose of Loya and Vinay Joshi’s visit as well as their accommodation arrangements were distinct from those of Loya’s other colleagues who travelled to Nagpur on the same dates. The District Legal Services Authority in Nagpur wrote to the Public Works Division Number 1 on 19 November 2014 to ask for eight rooms at Ravi Bhawan from 29 November to 1 December on behalf of the judge Swapna Joshi, whose daughter was getting married on 30 November. Where the letter arranging Loya’s accommodation stated that he would be on “government work,” the request on behalf of Swapna Joshi stated that the rooms requested were for judicial officers, including Modak and Kulkarni, “coming to Nagpur for some urgent work.” The letter arranging Loya’s accommodation was issued eight days after the request on Swapna Joshi’s behalf, indicating that he was not part of the group initially meant to go to Nagpur for the wedding.
Someone with the necessary powers in the Maharashtra government apparently decided that Loya was to travel to Nagpur and stay at Ravi Bhawan on the stated dates. Who that was is unclear. Instructions regarding an official visit by a judge in Loya’s position, at the head of a special Central Bureau of Investigation court in Mumbai, could only have come from officials in the Maharashtra capital.
The chain of letters on Loya’s accommodation, including the letter from the department of law and judiciary, was released by the office of the executive engineer of the Public Works Division Number 1, after an RTI application by Ashok Pai, a resident of Mumbai. When the department of law and judiciary was asked for a copy of its letter under an RTI application by Satish Uke, a Nagpur-based lawyer, it replied,
Since the said document is a miscellaneous document and since the said document is not required for further proceedings, it is filed away after one year’s duration. Since the said document has been destroyed, it is not available.
IM Bhargav, who issued this response, is the department’s desk officer, in addition to being its public-information officer. The department’s November 2014 letter regarding Loya’s accommodation was signed by Bhargav in her capacity as desk officer.
In connection with the same RTI application, which also sought “office notes and complete documents” behind the letter requesting accommodation for Loya, Bhargav responded,
Since the said document was issued on the oral instruction of the then Deputy Secretary, no remarks have been made about it. Similarly, even if any document has been released by this office for the purpose of reserving a suite in Ravi Bhavan, the suite was not reserved based on a document of this office.
When telephoned by The Caravan, Bhargav said that she would only respond to queries over email. At the time this story was published, she had not responded to emailed questions—including one on the claim that “the suite was not reserved based on a document of this office,” and another on the identity of the “then Deputy Secretary.” It is not clear why the department claims that no reservation was made at Ravi Bhawan based on its letter.
The RTI records show a clear chain of correspondence that followed the department’s letter. The document was addressed to the executive engineer of the Public Works Division Number 1, and also copied to the manager of Ravi Bhawan and deputy collector (protocol) for Nagpur. The correspondence ends with the additional engineer’s instruction to the booking clerk to provide accommodation.
The additional engineer’s instruction to “Give 1 suit in Building No.1” was addressed to a “Shri Sawant.” Ravi Bhawan’s duty register shows that a Pradeep Sawant was serving as a clerk at the time. When contacted by The Caravan, Sawant confirmed that he was a reservation clerk at the guest house in November 2014. Sawant, who worked at Ravi Bhawan between 1983 and 2015, said it was common for him to receive such letters of instruction. The usual procedure, he said, was for the “higher authority” to sign off on the communication, before forwarding it to the reception desk for allotment of specific rooms. The higher authority in this case, Sawant added, was Sanjay Upadhyay, the manager of Ravi Bhawan at the time. When telephoned by The Caravan, Upadhyay confirmed that he was the manager of Ravi Bhawan at the time, but hung up as soon as he was asked about the letter. He did not answer subsequent calls, and did not respond to questions sent to him over WhatsApp, along with an image of the letter.
Sawant did not recall this particular letter. “There are so many judges and other people who keep coming and going, often we don’t know when they came, whether they came or not,” he said. He also did not remember whether Joshi and Loya actually came to stay at the guest house. Sawant—like the 17 current and former employees of the guest house that The Caravan spoke to earlier—heard nothing in 2014 about a guest having died while staying at Ravi Bhawan. He first learnt of Loya’s death through news coverage in 2017. “No one in Ravi Bhawan at that time knew that this had happened,” he said.
Uke and Pai filed a Public Interest Litigation before the Bombay High Court on 7 June 2018, demanding that the government of Maharashtra compensate Loya’s family since he “died in service, on government work of State Of Maharashtra.” Pai, when contacted by The Caravan, said he was confused by the letter stating that Loya had travelled on government work. “So did he go for the official visit, or did he go for an unofficial visit, for the wedding?” he said. “It is not clear at all.”
Uke pointed out that police in Nagpur opened an inquiry into Loya’s death on the day of his demise, and that the letter should have been part of police records from the beginning. He added that the document’s “destruction in this manner, well after a police inquiry had been initiated, raises serious questions.”
The newly released documents call into doubt the reliability of the SIT report submitted to the Supreme Court by the state of Maharashtra, which forms the basis of the account that Loya died a natural death. The documents add more urgent questions to the long list of unresolved concerns in the Loya case:
- Who sanctioned Loya’s official trip to Nagpur and ordered that a room be booked for him in Ravi Bhawan?
- Why was Loya not informed of this trip?
- Why were records relevant to this matter destroyed by the government even after police began an inquiry into the case?
- Why is there no entry for Loya in the Ravi Bhawan occupancy register?
- Why did the lawyers representing the state of Maharashtra in the Supreme Court fail to mention that Loya’s accommodation was booked two days before he left for Nagpur, or that the booking was made on the premise that Loya would be travelling on “government work”?
- Why were these documents and facts concealed in the “discreet inquiry” conducted by the State Intelligence Department of Maharashtra?
Nikita Saxena is a staff writer at The Caravan.
Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.
Niranjan Takle is an electronics engineer by training and a journalist by choice. He has worked for CNN-IBN and The Week, among other organisations.