The lawyer Milind Pakhale has filed a police complaint stating that an entry he made in the occupancy register at Ravi Bhavan, a government-run VIP guest house in Nagpur, has been manipulated. Pakhale is a prominent public figure, and is the convener of the Khairlanji Action Committee, formed after the 2006 massacre of Dalits in Khairlanji, Maharashtra. The judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, who died suddenly on the night intervening between 30 November and 1 December 2014 while on a visit to Nagpur, is reported to have been staying at Ravi Bhavan on his final night. Pakhale’s entry in the occupancy register appears just before two other entries that relate directly to Loya’s stay.
At the time of his death, Loya was presiding over the trial in the allegedly staged encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, in which Amit Shah, the current president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was the main person accused. In reports published by The Caravan, numerous family members and associates of the late judge have raised questions regarding the circumstances of his death, and said that Loya reported attempts to influence his judgment in the Sohrabuddin case, including by Mohit Shah, then the chief justice of the Bombay High Court.
Pakhale filed the complaint on 20 December 2017 at Sadar police station in Nagpur. He has also sent a copy of the complaint to the executive engineer of the Public Works Department in Nagpur, which runs Ravi Bhavan. Nagpur police confirmed receipt of the complaint when contacted by The Caravan. The executive engineer told The Caravan that he had not been able to look into the issue because the state assembly was in session, and would only be able to get to it after Christmas.
The police complaint states, “Somebody has manipulated government records in relation to the grave incident that occurred on 30.11.2014 and with the purpose of erasing evidence of my registration this document was corrupted and a bogus document was prepared and that was used.” Pakhale writes that he made the entry in question in 2014, in his own handwriting, but the same entry in the register now shows arrival and departure dates from 2017, in a different handwriting. He makes it clear in the complaint that the rest of the entry, beyond the arrival and departure dates, remains in his own hand. “I am filing this complaint to demand an immediate inquiry against the officer and the employees responsible for this manipulation,” Pakhale adds.
This considerably strengthens the case for an independent probe into Loya’s mysterious death. Family members, associates and former colleagues of the late judge have issued calls for such a probe, as have prominent retired judges, government bureaucrats and military officers.
A report published by The Caravan on 21 December 2017 detailed numerous inconsistencies in the various accounts of Loya’s final night that have been made public so far. It also noted possible signs of manipulation in records that pertain to the circumstances of his death, including the occupancy register at Ravi Bhavan. The pages of the register examined by The Caravan were made available by the Public Works Department in response to a Right to Information request filed by Suraj Lolage, a Nagpur-based lawyer. (Lolage has also filed a PIL regarding the Loya case with the Nagpur branch of the Bombay High Court.) The report noted three unexplained blank entries in the register immediately preceding two entries directly related to Loya’s stay, and noted the arrival and departure dates from 2017 for an entry above these. The report also noted that the field for the guest’s particulars in that entry reads “Babasaheb Ambedkar Milind ______,” with the last name illegible, and that the reporters could not at the time determine whom this entry referred to.
This is the entry that Milind Pakhale has now come forward to say was made by him, and has since been manipulated. Pakhale’s police complaint states that he wrote the entry on 30 November 2014 to sign in Prakash Ambedkar, popularly known as Balasaheb Ambedkar, a former member of parliament and the grandson of BR Ambedkar. According to Pakhale, Ambedkar stays at Ravi Bhavan whenever he is in Nagpur.
“I have frequently heard of the grave incident concerning Ravi Bhavan that occurred on 30-11-2014. On the same [day], on 30-11-2014, I had registered a room for my MP Shri Balasaheb Ambedkar in the guesthouse register,” the police complaint reads. “After Respected Balasaheb Ambedkar arrived at Ravi Bhavan on 30-11-2014, I had written with my own hand that the room was taken under his possession.” Pakhale states that in a copy he had procured of the relevant page of the register, “it appears that the check-in time has been recorded as 1.38 pm on 30-11-17 and checkout time has been recorded as 30-11-17 under my registration in the guesthouse register. I had registered in the guesthouse register on 30-11-2014, not on 30-11-2017. The aforementioned date 30.11.17 as it is written (the date 30.11.17) is not in my handwriting.” Pakhale does not claim that any part of his entry other than the dates has been altered.
When contacted by The Caravan, Pakhale stood by all his statements in the complaint. He added, “By no imagination one can write the date in 2014 as 17.” The Caravan also contacted Prakash Ambedkar, who confirmed that he frequently stays at Ravi Bhavan when in Nagpur, and that his associates, including Pakhale, handle the required booking and registration procedures on his behalf.
How an entry for a stay in 2014 could have come to show a date from 2017 remains unclear. It is highly unlikely that anyone in 2014 would, in good faith, enter a date three years in the future in an occupancy register. In this instance, there two instances of such unlikely dating—in both the check-in and check-out dates. By way of comparison, the chances of someone twice mistaking the year for 2020 when filling in a register at a hotel or guesthouse today are very slim.
Other discrepancies in the register raise further questions over the possible manipulation of the document. In response to the RTI request, the Public Works Department released copies of 26 pages of the Ravi Bhawan occupancy register. None of these show a single blank entry—as would be expected in such a register, filled in sequentially, as all such registers are at hotels and guest houses, and used to record only the occupancy of accommodation, and not bookings and no-shows. The only blank entries in the 26 issued pages of the register appear on page 45, which includes Pakhale’s entry, and page 46, which includes entries for the two suites where Loya could have stayed while in Nagpur, where he had travelled with judicial colleagues to attend the wedding of the daughter of a fellow judge.
These are suites 10 and 20, registered, respectively, under the names of S Kulkarni and Smt Phansalkar-Joshi. The register identifies Kulkarni as a registrar of the Bombay High Court; in November 2014, a judge named Shrikant Kulkarni held that designation. The register identifies Phansalkar-Joshi 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. In the entry under Kulkarni’s name, the date of arrival shown is “30-11-14,” or 30 November 2014. Inspecting the entry closely, however, it appears that this date was earlier recorded as “30-12-14”—or 30 December 2014, a full month after Loya’s stay and death—before the “12” was written over to make it “11.”
Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.