In keeping with its pattern of furnishing testimonies that amend, distort or completely roll back on the statements formerly given to journalists, the state of Maharashtra continued its arguments on Friday in the Supreme Court to oppose an investigation into the suspicious death of Judge BH Loya. The state argued that the statements of RK Sharma, one of India’s foremost medico-legal experts—who had told me in an earlier interview that the medical documents pertaining to Loya’s death show no sign of a heart-attack and hint towards poisoning—could not be trusted. The state submitted that Sharma only had a casual conversation with a journalist and had been quoted out of context. As was the case with earlier testimonies, the state’s arguments about Sharma, too, are easily disprovable with the facts that are available.
On 11 February, The Caravan published an article quoting Sharma, who was the former head of the Forensic Medicine and Toxicology Department at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, and the president of the Indian Association of Medico-Legal Experts for 22 years. “There is no evidence of myocardial infarction in the histopathology report,” Sharma told me. “The findings in this report have no suggestion of a heart attack.” Based on the article, the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, a non-profit legal collective, had filed an intervention application in the Supreme Court, seeking to make submissions about medical experts ruling out the possibility that the late judge died of a heart attack. A three-judge bench led by the chief justice of India, which is hearing the batch of petitions asking for an investigation into Loya’s death, heard the CPIL’s application on 8 and 9 March.
Before the Supreme Court, the crux of the state of Maharashtra’s defence so far have been testimonies obtained from the family of Judge Loya, and four judges who claim to have been accompanying Loya in his last hours. On the second date of the hearing, Mukul Rohatgi, the former attorney general who is representing the state of Maharashtra, argued: “If these four judges have to be believed, this case has to come to an end today.” The sanctity of these testimonies has been the running thread in all of Rohatgi’s submissions—they form the very basis of the state’s arguments. On 9 March, to negate the medical opinion furnished by Sharma, Rohatgi produced a report by HM Pathak, a Mumbai-based professor of forensic medicine and toxicology, which countered everything that Sharma had told me.
I had met Sharma at his office in Nehru Place on 10 February. We had earlier spoken over the phone, and Sharma was willing to go through the medical documents and give me his expert opinion, after almost every doctor in the Forensic Department at AIIMS had refused to speak to me about the case. After going through the reports, Sharma told me, “Dura is congested according to the post-mortem report.” He added, “Dura mater is the outermost layer that surrounds our brain. It is damaged in cases of trauma, which indicates some kind of an assault on the brain. A physical assault.” An audio recording of the whole conversation is with The Caravan, and an excerpt of the recording’s transcript has been published with this story.
Before the publication of the article, I had sent every single quote attributed to Sharma to him on WhatsApp. These included his statements that there is no sign of a heart attack, and that there is a possibility of poisoning and a physical assault on the brain. To all of this, he replied by saying, “It is all okay.” After that, I had another conversation with him to corroborate some details. After the publication of the story, I had sent Sharma the link and spoken to him on the phone.
Arguing before the bench on 9 March, the advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing on behalf of the CPIL, read out the article in the chief justice’s court, to which Rohatgi objected vehemently. “I did not want to get into this, milords,” he said, addressing the bench. “But he has been going on and on about Sharma, Sharma, Sharma. This Sharma has withdrawn his statement.”
At this point, Bhushan was continuing his submissions. “We cannot have cross-arguments,” the chief justice told Rohatgi, and asked him to let Bhushan make his submissions. “Mr Bhushan we are following your train of thought, please do not be distracted by this,” Justice DY Chandrachud said. Bhushan continued with his arguments—showing that, in light of the opinions given to him by the prominent cardiologist Upendra Kaul and the statements of RK Sharma, it could not be believed that Loya had died of a heart attack.
When Rohatgi rose to address the bench, he elaborated upon what he had said earlier. “He went on and on about Sharma, Sharma, Sharma,” Rohatgi said. “Now see what happens.”
According to Rohatgi, after the story quoting RK Sharma was published, Sunil Bonde—the Nagpur-based investigating officer in Loya’s case who happens to be the brother of a BJP politician—had reached out to Dr Sudhir Gupta, the head of the Department of Forensic Medicine at AIIMS. Rohatgi did not state what Bonde had asked of Gupta. But he added that in relation to Bonde’s query, Gupta asked Sharma about his opinion published in the story, and Sharma then claimed that he had only had a casual conversation with me and had been quoted out of the context.
I had spoken to Sharma on the phone before going to his office, and explained the purpose of my visit. I had carried the medical documents with me, which he studied before speaking with me. During my conversation, which lasted about half an hour, I asked Sharma why nobody at AIIMS was willing to give their opinion to me. “They won’t, they won’t.” he said. “They are pro-BJP.” I asked him, “Do you mean Dr Sudhir Gupta?” He nodded in the affirmative. After we spoke, he confirmed, on WhatsApp, all the quotes that we published—screenshots of this conversation are reproduced below.
This is not the first time that the state of Maharashtra has produced testimonies to counter the facts placed before them. After The Caravan published the family’s account of suspicious circumstances surrounding Loya’s death, the family was incommunicado for about a week, after which the State Intelligence Department produced statements from the family. Every member of the family gave statements that negated their own words, spoken at their own will, before a camera. The testimonies are the crux of the State’s opposition to an investigation into Loya’s death.
“These statements have been taken under pressure,” Dushyant Dave, representing the petitioners, had submitted on one of the earlier hearings. At another point, he had said, “The entire state machinery is weighing on you—who can withstand the pressure?”
Dr RK Sharma has not responded to several calls and messages for a comment.
Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.