Family members of the judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya—who presided over the trial in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case, where the main person accused was the Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah—have raised numerous questions over his sudden death, purportedly of a heart attack, while on a visit to Nagpur in 2014. Since The Caravan first published these questions last month, our investigations have uncovered signs of possible manipulation in every record made public so far with information on the circumstances of Loya’s final night. These include the occupancy register at the government guest house where he stayed, and an ECG chart purportedly generated at Dande Hospital, the first medical facility he was reportedly taken to after feeling unwell.
Several sources have come forward after the Loya story was broken by The Caravan to offer accounts of the judge’s final hours that dispute the testimony of Loya’s family members. Two sitting judges of the Bombay High Court have chosen to speak to select media outlets—and, in doing so, made an exceptional departure from the established code of judicial conduct—in order to summarily dismiss any possibility of foul play, even as a police investigation into Loya’s death is ongoing. These judges, by their own telling, did not themselves witness Loya’s deterioration on his final night until after he was at the Meditrina Institute of Medical Sciences, where he was taken after Dande Hospital and eventually declared dead.
The new accounts of the circumstances of Loya’s death have appeared in follow-up reports from Nagpur by several media outlets, including the Indian Express and NDTV. Amit Shah himself, when asked of the Loya case, has recommended the Indian Express’s coverage for a “more neutral” viewpoint. None of these accounts stand up to close scrutiny, and between them they disagree on multiple details. We were given new accounts and details of Loya’s final night on our own follow-up reporting from Nagpur too, and these, again, do not square with the accounts and details offered to other media outlets.
Following Loya’s death, a Zero-FIR was registered at Sitabuldi police station, which has jurisdiction over Meditrina. The case was then transferred to Sadar police station, which has jurisdiction over the government guest house. The police file on the case remains open, and police in Nagpur told us it contains an Accidental Death Report. As of early this December, police investigators had not recorded statements from anyone who was with Loya in the lead-up to his death, or from any of Loya’s immediate family members—despite it being standard police procedure to collect such statements as part of inquest proceedings. There is no established chain of custody for Loya’s mobile phone, which was delivered to his family through unofficial channels three days after his death, with records erased.
POSSIBLE MANIPULATION OF OCCUPANCY REGISTER AT GOVERNMENT GUEST HOUSE
Ravi Bhavan, the guest house for government VIPs where Loya stayed in Nagpur, maintains an occupancy register. This is not used for bookings, but rather to sign guests into their allotted accommodation when they arrive, and sign them out when they leave. As is common with such registers at all hotels and guest houses, it is filled in sequentially. We inspected the register at Ravi Bhavan on 3 December 2017.
Loya died on the night intervening between 30 November and 1 December 2014, while in Nagpur to attend the wedding of the daughter of a fellow judge. For the time of his stay, the occupancy register showed suites 10 and 20, respectively, registered to S Kulkarni and Smt Phansalkar-Joshi. Kulkarni was identified as the registrar of the Bombay High Court; at the time the post was held by a judge named Shrikant Kulkarni. Phansalkar-Joshi was identified as the registrar general of the Bombay High Court; a judge named Shalini Shashank Phansalkar-Joshi is today a justice of the Bombay High Court. Suites 10 and 20 are situated right beside the reception area of Ravi Bhavan, and are very close to the exit gate of the guest house.
The register is printed with six rows on every page. When we flipped through it, every page appeared to be completely filled in from the start of the volume through page 44. However, page 45 and page 46—Kulkarni and Phansalkar-Joshi’s entries appear on the latter—showed three blank rows.
Page 45 has four complete entries. The first three, respectively, are under the names of an engineer with the Public Works Department and two judges of the Aurangabad branch of the Bombay High Court. The fourth is under the name “Babasaheb Ambedkar Milind ______,” with the last name is illegible. There is no phone number or additional identifying information listed for this guest.
The engineer arrived on 28 November 2014 and left on 1 December; the judges arrived at 8 pm on 29 November 2014 and left the next day. These three entries have the signatures of the registered guests, the person who received them and the person who checked them out.
Surprisingly, the entry under “Babasaheb Ambedkar Milind ______” notes that the guest arrived at 1.38 am on “30-11-17,” or 30 November 2017—although this part of the register is meant to have recorded arrivals and departures in 2014. This entry is also missing signatures of the guest and of whoever checked the guest out. The guest apparently did not pay either, so there is no way to verify this entry against a payment slip.
That a date three years in the future would have been written into such a register in 2014 seems highly unlikely. For comparison, it is worth considering the chances of a guest or receptionist in 2017 accidentally entering the present year in such a register as 2020. While even a single genuine discrepancy of this sort is unlikely, in this case there are actually two. The same entry shows the guest checking out from Ravi Bhavan at an unspecified time on the same date—“30/11/17.”
The last two rows on page 45 are empty, and note nothing more than two suite numbers—2 and 3. On page 46, the first row is empty, and mentions only suite number 5. The next two entries are those under the names of Kulkarni and Phansalkar-Joshi. Inspecting these closely, it appears that the arrival date in Kulkarni’s entry was first written down as 30-12-14—or 30 December 2014, a full month after Loya’s death. It seems that the 2 in this date was subsequently scribbled over to make a 1, indicating an arrival date of “30-11-14,” or 30 November 2014.
In a reply to an RTI application, a copy of which is with The Caravan, the Public Works Department of the Maharashtra government, which runs Ravi Bhavan, has issued copies of 26 pages of the register. None of these have any blank entries outside pages 45 and 46 either. There should, in fact, be no reason for blank rows in an occupancy register. It is worth noting again that the only blank entries in the Ravi Bhavan occupancy register as well as the two instances of inconsistent dating all occur immediately preceding the entries directly related to Loya’s stay there.
Justice Bhushan Gavai, one of the two Bombay High Court judges to have spoken to the media so far, told the Indian Express that Loya stayed with two fellow male judges while at Ravi Bhavan. Ruling out the possibility of one of them having stayed in a suite that, according to the register, was occupied by a woman judge, that would mean the three of them shared the one suite, number 10, registered under Kulkarni’s name. Each suite at Ravi Bhavan has two beds. It is not clear why a judge would have chosen to spend the night on a sofa or on the floor of a suite, to share one of the two beds in it, or to go through the hassle of having an extra bed moved in, when there were at least three unoccupied suites available as per the blank entries in the occupancy register.
Kulkarni and Phansalkar-Joshi have not spoken publically on the events of Loya’s last night. We were unable to contact any of the other individuals shown as having stayed at Ravi Bhavan at the time according to those pages of the occupancy register that are available to us.
CONFLICTING INFORMATION ON HOW, WHEN AND BY WHOM LOYA WAS TAKEN TO HOSPITAL
Speaking to The Caravan, one of Loya’s sisters, Dr Anuradha Biyani, said that the two judges who stayed with Loya at Nagpur, who had earlier insisted that he travel to the city, visited his family a month or so after his death to share their account of his final hours. According to Biyani, the judges said that Loya complained of chest pain at around 12.30 am, and that they then took him to Dande Hospital in an auto rickshaw. Loya’s father, Harkishan, also reported to The Caravan that he was told the judge had been transported to Dande Hospital in an auto.
The Caravan first published the family’s account on 20 November 2017. An NDTV report dated 26 November noted that “The Caravan article questions why Justice Loya was taken to hospital in an autorickshaw from Ravi Bhavan,” and appeared to offer an answer for why this was so. It said, “At Ravi Bhavan, staff members who were present at the time and wished to remain unnamed told NDTV that there are no designated drivers in Ravi Bhavan, and Justice Loya did not appear to have a car specially assigned to him for the trip either.”
On 27 November, NDTV published another report, based on information from Justice Gavai. It said, “when Judge Loya began feeling uneasy, he was driven to a local hospital accompanied by a court official and a judge from Mumbai with whom he was sharing a room, recalled Justice Gavai.” The report concluded that this “contradicts the family’s claim that Judge Loya was transferred to hospital in an autorickshaw and without appropriate supervision.”
NDTV reported that Gavai said Loya had started feeling unwell at around 3.30 am. In a a report in the Indian Express, also published on 27 November, Gavai was quoted saying Loya “experienced a health problem around 4 am.” Gavai told the paper that a local judge named “Vijaykumar Barde and then Deputy Registrar of the Nagpur bench of the High Court Rupesh Rathi first took him to Dande Hospital in two cars.” Justice Sunil Shukre, the second judge to have spoken to select media outlets, told the Indian Express, “There was no question of taking him in an autorickshaw,” and that “Judge Barde drove him to Dande Hospital in his own car.”
Neither the NDTV nor the Indian Express reports have any indication of what sources Gavai or Shukre drew on to arrive at their testimonies on Loya’s final hours. NDTV reported that “Justice Gavai said that he was informed of the death at about 6:30 am and rushed to the hospital.” Gavai told the Indian Express, “I got a call from the High Court Registrar. … I rushed to Meditrina hospital along with fellow judge Justice Sunil Shukre.” Shukre confirmed to the paper that he arrived at Meditrina with Gavai. Neither judge has said he was present at Ravi Bhavan or Dande Hospital that night.
It is worth noting that Justice Gavai, speaking to the Indian Express, said “Loya was staying with fellow judges Shridhar Kulkarni and Shriram Madhusudan Modak” at Ravi Bhavan. Shridhar Kulkarni is a district-level judge in Maharashtra. Another follow-up report from Nagpur by Scroll noted that police records accessed by the news outlet’s reporters state Loya was brought to hospital by Shrikant Kulkarni, not Shridhar Kulkarni. The Ravi Bhavan occupancy register also clearly identified the “S Kulkarni” named in it as the registrar of the Bombay High Court—Shrikant Kulkarni.
UNVERIFIED ECG FROM DANDE HOSPITAL
The main piece of evidence to emerge so far to suggest that Loya suffered a heart attack is the chart of an ECG purportedly conducted on the judge at Dande Hospital. The chart was reported on by NDTV and the Indian Express, and the latter also published an image of it. The time stamp on the ECG chart reads 5.11 am on 30 November 2014—a full day prior to Loya’s death. Loya’s family members have reported that he was in touch with them as late as at 11 pm on 30 November, and had no medical complaints at that point.
Neither NDTV nor the Indian Express noted this anomaly when they first reported on the ECG chart. After it was pointed out on social media, the Indian Express updated the report in question with a statement from Pinak Dande, the owner of Dande Hospital, where he claimed the anomaly was due to a “technical glitch.”
Such a glitch would mean that all ECG charts generated at Dande Hospital at around the same time display a similar dating error, but no such records have come to light. By all available accounts, the people who accompanied Loya that night did not carry an ECG chart from Dande Hospital to Meditrina when the judge was moved there. The medico-legal consultant at Meditrina told us when we spoke that he did not see the ECG chart from Dande Hospital until a day after Loya’s death.
NDTV and the Indian Express have not made clear what measures, if any, they took to verify the authenticity of the ECG chart before they reported it. Until the chart is reliably verified, there remains the possibility that it was fabricated.
We met Pinak Dande on 30 November 2017, in his office at Dande Hospital. He called a secretary to take away the mobile phone we were carrying, and told us that our conversation was off the record. We went back to Dande Hospital several times after that to try and interview Dande on the record, but he declined to meet us again.
PINAK DANDE’S RSS LINKS
At present, Dande’s word is the only basis for believing the ECG chart to be authentic. Dande has offered various accounts of the night of Loya’s death to different media outlets, but these, like the ECG chart, show inconsistencies. He told the Indian Express that a resident medical officer attended to Loya when he was brought to Dande Hospital, between 4.45 am and 5 am. He gave NDTV visual details of how Loya was “very much alive” upon arrival, and “climbed the small flight of stairs himself and complained of excruciating pain in his chest.” Dande told Scroll that he was not at the hospital at the time of Loya’s arrival, but that he had spoken to the doctor who was on the night shift at the time. He promised to arrange a meeting between the doctor and Scroll reporters, but despite follow-ups from Scroll he never did.
Dande contested the Maharashtra Medical Council election in 2016 as a representative of the Pragati Panel, a group backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Shiv Sena. Pragati Panel aligned itself in that election with the Vaidyakiya Vikas Manch, or VVM, a collective of doctors who practice ayurveda and homeopathy which is reportedly linked to the BJP. VVM is headed by Dr Ashok Kukade, a founding trustee of Vivekanand Hospital in Latur—Loya’s home town. Kukade is a veteran member of the RSS. He has served on the organisation’s rashtriya karyakarini, or national executive body, and been its sanghchalak for the paschim kshetra of Maharashtra, with jurisdiction over Gujarat as well. Kukade is on the the advisory board of the Latur branch of the Indian Medical Association alongside Dr Hansraj Baheti—the brother of Ishwar Baheti, the man whom Loya’s family reported to The Caravan as having dissuaded them from travelling to Nagpur after they were informed of the judge’s death on 1 December, and who handed Loya’s mobile phone over to them, with records erased, three days later.
Dande’s Facebook page shows numerous pictures of him at events hosted by the Maitree Pariwar Sanstha, which describes itself on its website as “a social organisation” inspired by Swami Vivekananda. Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS sarsanghchalak, was the chief guest at an awards function organised by the Maitree Parivar Sanstha in 2016.
SELECTION OF HOSPITALS IN NAGPUR
It is not clear why Dande Hospital, an orthopaedic hospital run by a doctor with links to the RSS, was the first choice on that night. Lata Mangeshkar Hospital, Wockhardt Hospital and Wockhardt Heart Hospital—all considered among the best medical facilities in Nagpur—are all within easy driving distance of Ravi Bhavan. (Wockhardt Hospital and Wockhardt Heart Hospital are sister institutions, located about 500 metres apart.) Lata Mangeshkar Hospital, in the city’s YMCA complex, is roughly as far from Ravi Bhavan as Dande Hospital.
We took a cab one night from Ravi Bhavan to the old building of Dande Hospital (the hospital also has a new building nearby). We departed at precisely 4.04 am, and arrived at the hospital in six minutes, at 4.10 am. At that hour, the hospital’s doors were all shut, and most of its lights were out. The building does not have a designated entry for emergency cases. We repeated the experiment for the drive from Ravi Bhavan to Lata Mangeshkar Hospital. The trip took us six minutes. The driver of the vehicle that ferried Loya that night would have been a local, and would have known the comparative distances and travel times.
Interestingly, there is another hospital, Sengupta Hospital and Research Institute, situated at a crossroads 150 metres before the old building of Dande Hospital on the route to it from Ravi Bhavan. Anyone making the journey would have to pass by Sengupta, which stands in clear sight, before making a turn and driving on towards Dande.
If, as Pinak Dande told the Indian Express, Loya was brought to Dande Hospital no earlier than 4.45 am, and, as Justice Gavai told NDTV and the Indian Express, Loya first complained of feeling unwell at sometime between 3.30 and 4 am, it is not clear why it took at least 45 minutes to transport him a distance that should not have taken more than six or seven minutes. If, as Anuradha Biyani says she was told by the judges who travelled with Loya to Nagpur, Loya first felt unwell shortly past midnight, then the delay in his arrival at Dande is even more puzzling.
The choice of the second hospital Loya was taken to, Meditrina, is also puzzling. Dande told the Indian Express, “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.” If this was so, why was Loya not taken to Wockhardt Heart Hospital, which specialises in cardiac treatment and is located significantly closer to Dande than Meditrina. Anyone driving the fastest route between Dande Hospital and Meditrina would have to pass within a kilometre of Wockhardt Heart Hospital, and within less than half a kilometre of Wockhardt Hospital, before driving on for almost two more kilometres to reach Meditrina.
LOYA’S CONDITION ON ARRIVAL AT MEDITRINA
The medico-legal consultant at Meditrina told us he got a call from Dr Pankaj Harkut early on the morning of 1 December. “This patient has been admitted, he really is in the final stages,” Harkut told him. “What should we do in such cases?” The medico-legal consultant suggested going through the proper channels—that is, informing the police. “I said that we do not know who the patient is, I just told him to get the complete [medical] history of the patient,” he told us. “Because when the patient came here he was under a state of shock—just the terminal [heart] rhythm was there, as soon he was admitted CPR was started. But at one point you realise that this patient cannot be saved. That was when they gave me a call.”
As the medico-legal consultant recalled, “The accompanying persons were saying that he had sustained a myocardial infarction. Chest pain was there, there was vomiting etcetera. When I reached here, three or four people were here.” The consultant said he did not recognise any of them.
“An ECG was done here as soon as the patient came and it was showing terminal rhythm—it was not a flat line, it was showing agonal rhythm,” the medico-legal consultant said. The people who were accompanying Loya did not have a prior ECG report from Dande Hospital with them. “When I saw that ECG the next day, it was showing signs of MI”—myocardial infarction. “Had we seen that ECG earlier, we would have also diagnosed him with MI. And, maybe, we might not have informed the police.”
The medico-legal consultant did not try to contact the family at any point. “That is not in my purview,” he said. “Even the accompanying persons did not know the complete name of the patient.” According to available accounts and documents, the judges Kulkarni and Modak, the Justices Gavai and Shukre, and possibly other members of the Maharashtra judiciary, were all present at Meditrina. If they were all indeed there, it is difficult to understand why nobody could give Loya’s full name to the medico-legal consultant.
“Also, at that point, we are concerned with the patient,” the medico-legal consultant said. “I told the people who were with him—they were from the legal fraternity—that as per CrPC174 [Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure] we will have to go to the police. They were somewhat reluctant, but I told them that it is per the procedure and the police will decide whether to conduct post-mortem or not. We on our own can’t give a cause of death—because cause of death was not known to us. When the patient came here he just had terminal rhythm, which could be any damn thing. So just to rule out [any doubt] the post-mortem is essential.”
The medico-legal consultant added, “The reason I wanted to go through the proper channels was because I learnt that the patient was not a resident of Nagpur, he was visiting from Bombay and staying at Ravi Bhavan. When he reached here, only terminal rhythm was there and we could not see the ECG done at the referring hospital. So how can I give a cause of death?” He said that as per the hospital’s records, Loya was brought to Meditrina at “5.30 or 5.40, and at 6.15 the patient was declared dead.” An ECG conducted on Loya at Meditrina “was not showing a flat line,” the medico-legal consultant added. “That is why we have not labelled him ‘brought dead,’ we have labelled him ‘death on arrival’—we tried our best.”
Loya’s post-mortem report, a copy of which was provided to The Caravan by the joint commissioner of the Nagpur police, states that “he was brought to Dande Hospital first and then shifted to Meditrina hospital where he was declared brought in dead condition.”
“We gave him all the resuscitative measures, all the inotropic support, I think even DC shock was given—all the measures that have to be taken as per the ACRS guidelines, were taken,” the medico-legal consultant said. “He was also showing history of vomiting—so he might have been aspirated … Vomiting was there as per the accompanying persons. They [had said] that the patient had vomited once or twice.”
Two of India’s most respected cardiologists appeared on the television show Prime Time on NDTV India with the journalist Ravish Kumar on 27 November, to discuss the ECG chart published by the Indian Express. Dr KK Aggarwal, who was awarded the Padma Shri in 2010, said the chart did not show strong signs of a myocardial infarction. Dr Mohsin Wali, who has served as a physician to three former presidents, said that he did not see any acute signs on the chart either.
Sarita Mandhane, another of Loya’s sisters, told The Caravan that she received a call informing her that Loya had died at 5 am, from a person with the last name Barde—presumably Vijaykumar Barde, who, by Justice Gavai’s account, was with Loya that night. If, as the medico-legal consultant told us, Loya was still showing signs of life on arrival at Meditrina at 5.30 or 5.40 am, and if, as per the post-mortem report, Loya was only declared dead at 6.15 am, it is not clear why the judge’s family was informed of his death before the time he is said to have been brought to Meditrina.
ALTERED DATE ON THE POST-MORTEM REPORT
The post-mortem report states that Loya died at 6.15 am, after he complained of “sudden chest pain on 01/12/14 at 0400 am.” Looking closely at the date, however, it appears that the “01” was written over an earlier entry of “30.” It seems Loya was first recorded as having died on 30 December 2014, a month after his actual death, and the date was later corrected to say he died on 1 December 2014.
LACK OF PROPER POLICE INVESTIGATION
Shivaji Bodkhe, the joint commissioner of the Nagpur police, met us in his office on 1 December 2017. He had on his desk the file of a police investigation into Loya’s death, which has been ongoing for the last three years. Inside it, he told us, is an Accidental Death Report. This would indicate that when Loya’s death first came to the attention of the police, there was cause to believe that it might not have been due to natural causes. We were not allowed to see it or other documents in the file, which is confidential. (Bodkhe did allow us to see the few public documents in the case file, including Loya’s post-mortem report.)
We asked Bodkhe about the inaccurate date on the ECG chart. “See, tell me something, why do trains get into accidents?” he said. “If the bolts in the tracks get loose,” we guessed. “No. Not that. See, the person who shows the signals—these days everything has been digitised—but back then, what does this person who gives the signal do? He shows green and the tracks there go like this… so what happens then? Human error happens then. So sometimes he forgets. So now, say yesterday night, he puts the machine like this. And then what happens at 12 o’clock in this night? What happens? Tell me?” The date changes, we said. “So what happens with machines and computers? We have to set them. You go and see for yourself. Date has to be changed. Name has to be changed. … That is not how you find out whether the ECG is false anyway. The operator is there, caring person is there, colleagues are there—so that doesn’t mean that this is false.”
This was typical of the answers we received from Bodkhe over our two conversations with him. Our short, specific questions drew long and meandering replies that camouflaged a lack of clear information. Bodhke was transferred to Nagpur earlier this year, and had no experience in the Loya case prior to that. As of 1 December, when we met, the file did not have statements from anyone who accompanied Loya or dealt with him that night—not from any ECG technicians or doctors, not from any of the judges said to have been with Loya, nor from any of Loya’s immediate family members. Bodkhe did offer up some details during our conversation, but in the absence of witness statements it was not clear what sources, if any, Bodkhe was basing them on.
Bodkhe told us that there had been no FIR filed in the case. This contradicted what we heard from Hemant Kharabe, the station-house officer at Sitabuldi police station, which has jurisdiction over Meditrina. Kharabe told us that a Zero-FIR was registered at the station following Loya’s death, and was transferred to Sadar police station, which has jurisdiction over Ravi Bhavan. (With typical FIRs, police register the document in response to events that have occurred within their jurisdiction, and conduct the subsequent investigation. Zero-FIRs may by registered by any station, to be transferred for investigation to police in another station which has jurisdiction over the events in question.)
Bodkhe also said that Loya was taken to hospital on the night of his death by the judges Kulkarni and Barde. “Several judges, more than 20 judges were there,” Bodkhe added. He pointed to media reports of the judges Kulkarni and Barde and Justice Gavai having been present.
We asked if Loya’s body was sent for a post-mortem because his death could have been accidental. “Accidental and unnatural,” Bodkhe responded. “Some synonyms are there: accidental, unnatural, natural.”
We asked why no statements had been recorded from those who had reportedly been with Loya on his final night. “It was decided that it was not required for the purpose of the inquiry,” Bodkhe replied. “We are concerned about the death of that person and that death was ascertained.” Vijay Hiremath, a criminal lawyer, told us that, as standard practice, “inquest proceedings should have statements from all those who were accompanying Loya that night.”
One of the most perplexing questions surrounding Loya’s death is how his mobile phone came to be delivered to his family not through official channels, but by Ishwar Baheti—whom Dr Anuradha Biyani, Loya’s sister, described to The Caravan as “an RSS worker.” Bodhke said that Loya’s mobile phone had never come into the possession of the police after his death. “Phone, or any other articles in and around the body are seized if the evidence is required,” he said. “The phone is not related to the cause of death. It would be required when collecting the evidence or [trying to] link the evidence for a charge sheet or to a certain criminal conspiracy—then it would have been seized.” In effect, the police appear not to have taken any interest in the matter.
At Sadar police station, where the Zero-FIR was transferred from Sitabuldi station, we spoke to Sunil Bonde, the investigating officer in the case. Bonde, like Bodkhe, had only been transferred to Nagpur earlier this year. “As far as the police is concerned, there is no suspicion—end of story,” he told us. A day earlier, Bonde had told us that he could not speak to journalists on the phone. When we arrived at the station in person, he said we were free to solicit documents legally, but that he did not have time to speak with us on that day or the following days.
Bonde, the officer in whose hands the Loya case now lies, is the brother of Anil Bonde, a member of the Maharashtra legislative assembly for the Morshi constituency, who is a member of the BJP.
TRANSFER OF THE FIR TO A DIFFERENT JURISDICTION
Vijay Hiremath told us that “it is generally where a person is found dead that decides the jurisdiction a case will fall under,” but that “senior police officers have powers to transfer the investigations from one police station to another.” In Loya’s case, given the facts at hand, registering a Zero-FIR in place of a regular FIR was an unusual step, and would have required a deliberate decision to transfer the matter.
Hemant Kharabe, the station-house officer at Sitabuldi station, told us that where a case is investigated is decided not by where a person has died, but “jaha ghatna ghati hai”—where the incident in question occurred. There has been no indication as to what incident at Ravi Bhavan might have justified the transfer of Loya’s case from Sitabuldi police station to Sadar police station.
LOYA’S FORMER COLLEAGUES AND BATCHMATES CALL FOR AN INQUIRY
“Loya belonged to Latur. He was our colleague before becoming a judge,” the advocate Annarao Patil, the current president of the Latur Bar Association, told us at the district court in the city. “The Latur Bar Association was his mother bar. We’re taking up our demand for an official inquiry at the highest levels, in Mumbai and Delhi. If an independent inquiry is not constituted, the bar association will decide on a further course of action. We are not blaming anybody. But there has to be an inquiry as the suspicion surrounding his death is not healthy for the judiciary, which is an important pillar of our democracy.” The Latur Bar Association passed a resolution on 25 November calling for an investigation into the “suspicious circumstances” of Loya’s death.
Uday Gaware, a batchmate of Loya’s, a senior lawyer and a former president of the Latur Bar Association, said in an interview with The Caravan that the judge had spoken to him prior to his death about being “under pressure” regarding the Sohrabuddin case.
Balwant Jadhav, a senior advocate and Shiv Sena leader in Latur, and also a long-time friend of Loya’s, told us, “The needle of suspicion pointed to the role played by retired justice Mohit Shah”—the chief justice of the Bombay High Court at the time of Loya’s death—“who had reportedly pressurised Loya and even offered inducements to decide the case in favour of Amit Shah.”
Jadhav said questions also remain because, “within one month of Loya’s death, the judge replacing him discharges [the accused] without seeing the evidence. The CBI is the top investigating agency in this country. How can the CBI’s chargesheet be thrown out at the stage of [framing of] charges? Will you not give due consideration to its investigations? In such a short time, did the judge see the chargesheet? That is why, because of all these things, there is doubt.”
Doubts arose in his mind, Jadhav continued, on the day of Loya’s funeral. “After we returned from the funeral at Gategaon, a judge known to us”—to him and to Loya—“came to my house in the evening. He was sobbing, and told me, ‘Balwant, they killed him.’”
Jadhav, underlining the need for an official inquiry, added, that this judge “may not speak now, but he will speak before the appropriate authority.”
FURTHER ISSUES RAISED BY MEDIA REPORTING
From reading the reports published by the Indian Express and NDTV in the wake of The Caravan’s coverage of Loya’s death, it is clear that both were based on a very similar set of documents and sources. An editor at another publication told The Caravan that much the same set of documents and sources was made available to it as well.
Not only did the reports in the Indian Express and on NDTV rely heavily on the inaccurately dated ECG chart in taking the position that there was nothing untoward about Loya’s death, they also based much of their coverage on testimony from the two sitting judges of the Bombay High Court who had chosen to come forward. (The Indian Express quoted both Justice Gavai and Justice Shukre, while NDTV quoted Justice Gavai.) Both the judges have said they arrived at Meditrina after Loya was brought there, and neither claims to have been present at Ravi Bhavan when Loya first reportedly complained of chest pain, or at Dande Hospital subsequently.
The Restatement of Values of Judicial Life, a charter adopted by the Supreme Court, is meant to guide the conduct of all sitting judges in the country. The eighth point of the charter reads, “A Judge shall not enter into public debate or express his views in public on political matters or on matters that are pending or are likely to arise for judicial determination.” The ninth point reads, “A Judge is expected to let his judgments speak for themselves. He shall not give interviews to the media.” That two members of the senior judiciary should choose to contravene the charter in an exceptional instance involving questions over the death of a fellow judge is perhaps justifiable. But the charter is also meant to instruct the media, which is why reporters typically do not call up sitting judges for comment. In this instance, neither the Indian Express nor NDTV revealed whether the judges had reached out to them, or whether they had reached out to the judges. They did not offer any other details on how the interviews had been arranged either.
The media-watch website The Hoot subsequently reported that Justice Gavai had called “a press meet in his chambers to tell court reporters there was ‘nothing suspicious’ about the death of Justice Loya in Dec 2014.” The report continued, “The Hoot sought a reaction from Bombay High Court chief Justice Dr Manjula Chellur if she was aware of the press meet and permitted it but she declined to respond. Earlier, her office said that by convention, the chief justice does not have interactions with the media.”
We tried to speak with Justice Shukre and Justice Gavai in light of their demonstrated willingness to speak to the media on this matter. Despite several attempts, we were unable to contact Justice Shukre. When we called Justice Gavai’s office, his secretary told us that “he has already given whatever he wants” to the media, and would not speak to us.
Official rules issued in 2011 under the Information Technology Act, 2000, ban the publication of “sensitive personal data or information,” which includes a person’s medical records. The rules also state, “Disclosure of sensitive personal data or information by body corporate to any third party shall require prior permission from the provider of such information”—in the case of medical records, the patient. A government agency may obtain such information without the prior consent of the original provider after submitting a written request. As part of that request, the rules stipulate, “The government agency shall also state that the information so obtained shall not be published or shared with any other person.” Mihir Desai, a senior advocate at the Bombay High Court, told us that the ECG chart purportedly from Dande Hospital qualifies as sensitive personal information. “So without the permission of the patient you can’t publish anything,” he said. “If the person dies, then you have to take permission of the family.” The Indian Express, in an article it published on the same day as the ECG chart, stated that it was unable to contact any members of Loya’s immediate family.
We reached out to the Indian Express in the interest of determining how the paper came to access certain official and confidential material, some of it with inaccuracies, and certain official sources, some of them breaking judicial protocol. Its chief editor told us, “I do not discuss how we do a story. The story is there in the paper. We don’t have to add a line more or less.”
The following questions were sent to the managing editor of NDTV, but went unanswered:
You carried a report quoting Justice Bhushan Gavai. Did the reporter contact him or did he contact the reporter?
The judge was in violation of the charter adopted by the Supreme Court on the code of judicial ethics. Did you check whether he had sought permission before doing so?
According to The Hoot, Justice Gavai held an in-chamber briefing of reporters on this issue. Did the NDTV reporter attend this briefing? If so, why was this fact not part of the report?
Justice Gavai, according to his own testimony, reached the hospital after Loya was dead—all that he told NDTV about events prior to reaching the hospital is hearsay. Did you make any attempts to verify any of this information before publishing it?
On 2 December, Amit Shah appeared in an one-on-one interview on Times Now. Asked for his views on the questions surrounding Loya’s death, he responded, “Look, this whole thing was brought up by one section of the media. After that, another section of the media gave an answer to it. You should read that too—it is a thorough investigation.”
A few days later, Aaj Tak televised Shah’s appearance at a public event where he took questions from the public. Asked about Loya’s death again, he said, “I have only this to say, that Caravan magazine has printed one story, and the Indian Express has printed one story too. Whoever has any doubts should look at the facts. I believe you have read the Indian Express story too. If you’d brought that up, you’d have appeared more neutral.”
QUESTIONS THAT REMAIN UNRESOLVED
The members of Loya’s family who first spoke to The Caravan—the judge’s 85-year-old father, Harkishan; and his sisters Anuradha Biyani and Sarita Mandhane—did so under no duress, and appeared on camera with full knowledge that they were going on the record. As late as on 21 November, the day after the family’s concerns were first published, Loya’s sister Anuradha Biyani texted The Caravan to say she had “no problem absolutely, but the family is in a panic.” The questions that the family raised were numbing and numerous, and despite attempts to undermine their basis they still stand, unresolved. Meanwhile, those attempts have themselves raised more apparent discrepancies and issues of grave concern. Below is a list of just some the questions surrounding Loya’s death that remain to be properly answered.
Why was Loya first taken to an orthopaedic hospital run by a doctor with links to the RSS, instead of better-equipped and more reputed hospitals in Nagpur such as Lata Mangeshkar Hospital, Wockhardt Hospital or Wockhardt Heart Hospital—especially when Lata Mangeshkar Hospital is at a similar distance to Dande Hospital from Ravi Bhavan? Why was Loya next taken to Meditrina instead of Wockhardt Hospital or Wockhardt Heart Hospital, both of which are significantly closer to Dande Hospital than Meditrina is?
Why was the Zero-FIR registered at Sitabuldi police station, which has jurisdiction over Meditrina, transferred for investigation to Sadar police station, which has jurisdiction over Ravi Bhavan? Could this mean that some extraordinary event at Ravi Bhavan was brought to the notice of police at Sadar station?
Why are there blank entries in the occupancy register for Ravi Bhavan immediately preceding the entries directly related to Loya’s stay there, especially when there are no other blank entries elsewhere on multiple pages of the register?
Why, in the last complete entry preceding the entries directly related to Loya’s stay, does the occupancy register for Ravi Bhavan list two dates from 2017 in the record of a guest meant to have stayed there in 2014?
In which suite did Loya stay at Ravi Bhavan?
What could explain the multiple inconsistencies and contradictions in the testimony to the media so far from doctors, police official and High Court judges, including on such details as who took Loya to hospital, and who accompanied his body on its journey to his family?
How did select media houses access the ECG chart purportedly from an examination conducted on Loya at Dande Hospital that night, which is dated inaccurately? What have they done to confirm the chart’s authenticity?
What steps have police taken to verify the authenticity of the ECG chart purportedly issued for Loya at Dande Hospital on his last night, which is dated a full day before his death?
Who accompanied Loya to Dande Hospital? Why have police not collected statements from them?
Why did it take at least 45 minutes for Loya to be brought to Dande Hospital after he reportedly complained of chest pain at Ravi Bhavan, when the distance between the two can be covered in roughly six minutes in the early hours of the morning?
Who attended to Loya at Dande Hospital? Why have police not recorded their statements?
Who recommended that Loya be transferred from Dande Hospital to Meditrina?
Who accompanied Loya from Dande Hospital to Meditrina? Why have police not recorded their statements? Why did they not carry a chart of an ECG exam from Dande Hospital?
When the post-mortem report states “he was brought to Dande Hospital first and then shifted to Meditrina where he was declared brought in dead condition,” why does the medico-legal consultant at Meditrina say Loya was still showing signs of life at the time he was brought in?
Why did Loya’s family receive calls saying he was dead starting at 5 am, before his official time of death and before he is said to have arrived at Meditrina?
Who took possession of Loya’s mobile phone on the night of his death? How did it come into the hands of Ishwar Baheti? Who deleted records on the phone?
Who accompanied Loya’s Body to Gategaon? Who decided that it should be send there? Why was it not sent to Mumbai?
Why have no people come forward to identify themselves as direct witnesses to Loya’s deterioration? Why have police not identified them and recorded their statements?
Why has Loya’s family gone quiet and not spoken further to the media?
Why is there no investigation into the allegations that Loya reported attempts to influence his judgment in the Sohrabuddin case, as detailed by his family members and associates? Why was the judge who presided over the trial in the Sohrabuddin case before Loya transferred in the middle of hearing it, despite a Supreme Court order that a single judge hear the case from start to finish?
Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.
Anosh Malekar is an award-winning journalist based in Pune, who prefers traveling in rural India and writing about people living on the margins of society. He has worked with publications such as The WEEK and the Indian Express.