On 27 November, members of the Latur Bar Association marched from the Latur district court to the office of the district collector, to submit a memorandum seeking a probe into the death of the judge BH Loya. In an interview to The Caravan, Uday Gaware, a batchmate of the late judge, and a senior lawyer and former president of the bar association, recalled that Loya had confided in him about being “under pressure” while presiding over the Sohrabuddin case. During that period, Gaware added, “the otherwise jovial Brijmohanji Loya … for the first time I saw that he was in a lot of tension.”
The late judge Loya hailed from Latur, where he was a member of the bar association and practised as an advocate for nearly a decade, before his appointment as a judge. Gaware told The Caravan that Loya would visit Latur during court holidays and speak to his former colleagues from the bar association. Gaware recalled that when Loya visited Latur during Diwali in 2014, he said he was facing pressure while hearing the Sohrabuddin case. According to Gaware, Loya had said, “I want to resign. I will come to the village and take up farming, but I will not give a wrong judgment.”
The Caravan also learnt that Loya had spoken to another lawyer friend at greater length about the issue. When The Caravan reached out to this friend, he said, “I have a lot of evidence to show that he was under pressure.” But he added, “I will talk about this only in front of an enquiry officer.”
The Latur Bar Association’s general body passed a resolution on 25 November stating that it had “unanimously decided” to demand an investigation into the “suspicious circumstances” surrounding Loya’s death. In the resolution, the bar association sought an inquiry by an “independent commission of the Supreme Court/High Court” into the judge’s death. Two days later, the members marched to the district collector’s office to submit a memorandum addressed to the president of India.
The bar association’s memorandum noted that the “suspicion surrounding” the death of judge Loya “is not a healthy situation for the judiciary.” It further states, “As the part of the judicial mechanism, we feel it necessary to have a transparent enquiry into the alleged unnatural death and the pressure under which he was working as a judge at the relevant time.”
Members of the bar association said that a few hundred people from the bar participated in the kilometre-long march. The march and the memorandum marked the first collective initiative from the legal fraternity after The Caravan published a series of investigative reports by Niranjan Takle in which the late judge’s family voiced grave concerns regarding the circumstances surrounding his death.
The bar association is not sending the memorandum only to the president. Patil, the bar association president, told The Caravan that “copies of the memorandum will also be sent to the chief justice of India, chief justice of [Bombay High Court] and the parliament’s leader of opposition.” Patil added: “If an independent enquiry is not constituted, the bar will decide the further course of action. If this doesn’t yield any results, we will file a writ petition in the high court.” Gaware, too, told The Caravan that the bar association’s resolution states “that there should be an enquiry.” “We are not pointing a finger at anyone.”
In the wake of a news report that Loya’s son Anuj stated to the chief justice of the Bombay High Court that his father had died of a heart attack and that he had “full faith in the members of the judiciary who were with [Loya,]” the Latur Bar Association issued a press statement in response on 29 November. The statement noted that Anuj “was not directly present at the time of the incident … questions with respect to the death remain unanswered.” It further stated, “If this case’s investigation begins, then his family members could face several kinds of harassment. Similarly, he may have made this statement as he has fallen prey to the pressure of putting a stop to an investigation.” With respect to the news report about Anuj’s letter, Gaware told The Caravan:
Loyaji’s child Anuj is alone right now. He has to live the rest of his life, his mother has to live the rest of her life. The protection that was his father, is gone. In these circumstances, if everyday, at every step, there is treachery, if goons are after him, then he is going to say there is nothing to do with my father, leave it. Let me live. This is what he has said to the chief justice.
Aathira Konikkara is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.