Documents submitted to the Supreme Court by the state of Maharashtra as part of hearings regarding the death of the judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya contradict each other on multiple counts. The papers have been submitted alongside a report prepared for the additional chief secretary of the home ministry of Maharashtra by Sanjay Barve, the commissioner of Maharashtra’s State Intelligence Department, or SID. Copies of the documents were handed over to petitioners asking for an investigation into Loya’s mysterious death in Nagpur in 2014. The papers raise further questions about the circumstances of the case, and fail to resolve any of the troubling discrepancies already exposed in the matter by The Caravan. They also suggest a concerted bid to manipulate records to create a narrative that Loya died of a natural heart attack.
STATEMENT ASSERTS THAT ECG MACHINE AT DANDE HOSPITAL WAS NOT WORKING
The submitted documents include statements from four judges—Shrikant Kulkarni, SM Modak, VC Barde and Roopesh Rathi—who claim to have been with Loya in his last hours. None of these judges had previously spoken or submitted statements on the case. A handwritten statement given to the SID by Rathi, who says he was working in Nagpur in 2014, states that the ECG machine at Dande Hospital was not working when Loya was taken there on the night he died.
Rathi’s statement says that Dande Hospital “was on 1st floor and so we all climbed stairs and went there. One assistant doctor was present there. Mr. Loya complained about severe chest pain. His face was sweating & he was continually telling about more chest pain and heart burn. At that time the doctor tried to do his ECG but the nodes of ECG machine were broken. Doctor tried and wasted some time but machine was not working.” In the copy of Rathi’s two-page statement submitted to the Supreme Court, these lines appear at the bottom of the first page. It is evident that the text has been abruptly cut off on this page of the copy produced to the petitioners by the state of Maharashtra.
Judge Rathi’s statement agrees with what Loya’s sister Dr Anuradha Biyani told The Caravan, as reported in November 2017. Biyani said that, soon after Loya’s death, the judge’s family was informed that no ECG test was performed on him at Dande Hospital because “the ECG was not working.”
Subsequently, the Indian Express, in an attempt to discredit the family’s concerns, published the chart of an ECG test purportedly carried out on Loya at Dande Hospital. The time and date on the chart indicated that the ECG test had been carried out on the morning of 30 November 2014, even though Loya died on the night intervening 30 November and 1 December. The Indian Express later quoted the owner of Dande Hospital explaining the discrepancy away as a “technical glitch.” The same ECG chart was cited in statements to the media by the commissioner of the Nagpur police, and was reported on by NDTV, which said it “was shown the ECG report by Nagpur police.”
In their statements to the SID, Modak and Kulkarni do not mention an ECG test at all. Barde states in passing that the medical officer on duty at Dande Hospital performed an examination on Loya that included an ECG test. The SID report itself makes no mention of any ECG test.
Rathi’s eye-witness testimony that the ECG “machine was not working” strengthens the grounds for doubting the authenticity of the ECG chart. If, in fact, no ECG test was performed on Loya at Dande Hospital, questions must be asked as to how a chart purportedly produced by such a test, with the words “Dande Hospital” handwritten in its margins, found its way to select media outlets within a week of The Caravan first reporting the Loya family’s suspicions.
In a follow-up report in December, The Caravan pointed out signs of possible manipulation in numerous records relevant to Loya’s death. It is notable that not a single one of the apparently doctored records pointed out in that report—including the ECG chart, pages of the occupancy register at the guest house where Loya stayed in Nagpur, and a page of his post-mortem—has been included in the 60 pages of documents submitted to the Supreme Court. Loya’s post-mortem is mentioned in an index of all the papers submitted, but only part of the document has actually been produced before the court so far. The first page of the post-mortem is listed as page number 25 of the submission, but this page has been excluded without explanation. The Caravan’s December report included an image of the first page of Loya’s post-mortem, and pointed out that a crucial date on it had been overwritten. According to a Supreme Court order regarding the Loya petitions dated 22 January, when one of the petitioners raised the issue of the missing page in court, a counsel assisting Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi, who are representing the state of Maharashtra in the Loya matter, said that it would be provided “in the course of the day.” The Caravan has not been able to determine whether the petitioners have yet received a copy of the missing page.
Dande Hospital is the first place Loya is reported to have been taken to on his final night after purportedly complaining of chest pain. From there, he was referred to Nagpur’s Meditrina hospital. Ninad Gawande, the medico-legal consultant at Meditrina, told me on 5 December 2017 that no ECG chart was brought to the hospital with Loya on the night of his death. “I have not seen that ECG. At that moment,” he said. Gawande added that the ECG chart was “brought over” the next day. “It was showing changes … suggestive of myocardial infarction,” he continued. “Suppose if they might be having the previous ECG, I think … we would also have diagnosed the patient as [having a] myocardial infarction and might be that, we might not have informed the police regarding this thing. Because if the ECG was there. The main scene at that time was, there was no ECG. ” I asked Gawande at the time to confirm that the ECG chart from Dande Hospital only came to Meditrina a day after Loya’s death. “I have seen it the next day,” he replied. “When it came here I am not sure, because I don’t think the ECG came … before the declaration of [the death of] the patient, the ECG, I had not seen the ECG. The ECG was not there.”
Gawande’s signature appears at the bottom of a medico-legal certificate from Meditrina, dated 1 December 2014, submitted to the Supreme Court. This document was prepared on the basis of a death summary, also prepared at Meditrina, which recommended an “MLC and post-mortem for ascertaining cause of death.” The death summary, which has also been submitted to the Supreme Court, states, “Pt. [patient] was taken to Dande Hospital. ECG done – s/o tall ‘T’ on ant. [illegible word] … While shifting pt. collapsed.” In effect, Gawande, who insisted when I interviewed him that he did not see an ECG chart from Dande Hospital until the day after Loya’s death, appears to have prepared a medico-legal report recommended on the basis of such a chart on the day of the judge’s death.
This contradiction raises serious questions about the authenticity of the records from Meditrina submitted to the Supreme Court. How was it possible for Meditrina to cite in a record prepared at the time of Loya’s death a document that was not then available at the hospital?
HOSPITAL BILL FROM MEDITRINA LISTS “NEURO SURGERY” FOR LOYA
The submitted medical documents from Meditrina are ambiguous about whether Loya was already dead when he was brought to the hospital or whether he was still alive and received treatment. The medico-legal certificate states that he was “brought dead” to the hospital, but the death summary states, “Emergency medication given, DC shock of 200 [unclear] was given multiple times. … CPR continued … patient could not be revived.” Ninad Gawande told me in December that when Loya was brought to Meditrina “just the terminal [heart] rhythm was there, as soon as he was admitted CPR was started. But at one point you realise that this patient cannot be saved.”
A “Final Inpatient Bill Summary” issued by Meditrina under Loya’s name, included in the submission to the Supreme Court, shows a fee of Rs 1,500 charged for “Neuro Surgery.” (Anuradha Biyani said she saw bloodstains on Loya’s neck when his body was delivered to his family. Sarita Mandhane, another of Loya’s sisters, said the same thing in a separate interview with The Caravan.) It is not clear why doctors at Meditrina would have performed neurosurgery on Loya when he was purportedly brought in showing signs of a heart attack.
CONFLICTING DATES AND OTHER UNEXPLAINED DETAILS IN POLICE RECORDS
The submitted documents include an Accidental Death Report registered at Nagpur’s Sitabuldi police station, which has jurisdiction over Meditrina. In it, Loya’s time and date of death is recorded as 6.15 am on “30/11/2014”—a day before he died. (This is the same discrepancy that appeared on the ECG chart.) Records from Meditrina show that he was declared dead at 6.15 am on “1/12/2014.”
For reasons that are yet to be made clear, the case file on Loya’s death was transferred from Sitabuldi police station to Sadar police station, which has jurisdiction over the guest house where Loya was staying. A fresh Accidental Death Report prepared at the Sadar station records Loya’s death as having occurred at 6.15am on “01/12/2014”. As per standard procedure, the report from Sadar has to be based on the one from Sitabuldi. There is no indication in the documents as to how and why the dates of death in the two reports disagree.
An inquest panchnama prepared at Sitabuldi station says that “the relative of the deceased, Dr Prashant Bajrang Rati, recognised the face of the deceased to be that of Brijmohan Harkishan Loya on seeing his face.” A copy of Rathi’s statement to the police, which is attached with the Sadar report, shows him saying Loya is “relative of my uncle.” When I spoke to Prashant Rathi in December, he said “I did not even know Loya saab,” and stated clearly that he had never met the judge and “never had any contact with him.” In light of this, it is surprising that the police claim that Rathi “recognised the deceased.”
Rathi’s statement makes no mention of Loya being taken to Dande Hospital, and states only that he “was admitted to Meditrina hospital.” Established procedures require the police to record statements from anyone who was with the deceased in his last hours, yet Rathi’s statement was the only one taken. No statements were taken at the time from any of four judges who claim to have taken Loya to hospital.
THE RSS CONNECTION
Loya’s body was sent from Nagpur to his home town of Latur—rather than to Bombay, where he was living at the time—to be received by his family. Anuradha Biyani told The Caravan that a Latur resident named Ishwar Baheti, whom she identified as “an RSS worker,” had approached the family to dissuade them from travelling to Nagpur and informed them that the body was on its way to them. Baheti also returned Loya’s mobile phone to the family several days after his death, with call records and messages erased. It has not been made clear how Baheti came to know the details he did, or to possess Loya’s mobile phone.
In section 3.8 of its report, the SID claims to have dispelled “the doubts raised in the Caravan report about the role of Mr. Ishwar Baheti.” It says that Baheti was informed of Loya’s death by his “elder brother, “Dr. Hansraj Govindlal Baheti (r/o Latur),” who “got a call in the wee hours of 01-12-2014 informing him about Mr. Loya’s health.”
The crucial question that the SID has ignored is how those who were present at Loya’s death, including the four judges, knew to contact Hansraj Baheti in Latur in order for him to pass on news to the Loya family. The Caravan reported the connections to the RSS of Hansraj Baheti and Dr Pinak Dande, the owner of Dande Hospital, in the follow-up piece in December. While the SID report attempts to dismiss claims that Ishwar Baheti is connected to the RSS, it fails to take note of Hansraj Baheti’s evident association with the organisation. The SIT report makes no mention of Loya’s phone, or of how it might have come to be handed over to the judge’s family by Ishwar Baheti even though the police should have taken custody of the phone, listed it among Loya’s belongings in the inquest panchnama and returned it to his family without any tampering.
REASON TO BELIEVE WRITTEN STATEMENTS FROM LOYA FAMILY WERE RECORDED UNDER DURESS
After The Caravan first reported the Loya family’s suspicions, on 20 and 21 November 2017, the family was incommunicado for over a week. Loya’s father, Harkishan, returned to his home in Latur only on 5 December. On 14 January, Loya’s son, Anuj, appeared at a press conference. He was visibly nervous, and the press conference was heavy-handedly conducted by a lawyer who directed when Anuj could speak and what questions he could answer. When asked whether or not he wanted an investigation into his father’s death, Anuj replied, “I’m no one to decide.”
The documents submitted to the Supreme Court include signed statements from Anuradha, Harkishan and Anuj. The statements say the family has no suspicions over Loya’s death. All three statements are addressed to Sanjay Barve, the commissioner of the SID, and are dated 27 November 2017—during the period the family was incommunicado. Without knowing the circumstances under which the statements were recorded, there is reason to wonder whether they were given willingly or under duress. It is not clear on what authority Maharashtra’s state intelligence apparatus was brought into this case, or what authority it had to record these statements. At the time of his death, Loya was presiding over a trial regarding the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, in which the main person accused was Amit Shah—the current president of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Maharashtra is presently under a BJP government. In these circumstances, the use of the state intelligence apparatus is questionable.
Sanjay Barve received a letter from the Maharashtra government on 23 November 2017 directing him to conduct a “discreet verification” of The Caravan’s reports. That very day, Barve wrote to the chief justice of the Bombay High Court, asking permission to record statements from the judges who were with Loya. The court replied on the same day to allow this. All these letters have been submitted to the Supreme Court. Barve’s completed report is dated 28 November.
Anuradha and Harkishan’s statements confirm that they had spoken to a journalist, but say that neither was aware of ever being recorded on video. In fact, Niranjan Takle, who broke the story of the family’s suspicions, recorded video interviews with both of them with their full consent. Neither interview was a sting operation, and watching them it is clear that Anuradha and Harkishan were aware that they were on video. Harkishan appeared on camera, alongside Sarita Mandhane, on 17 November 2017, just three days before The Caravan published its first report on Loya.
As was stated in Takle’s reports, he was first approached regarding the Loya case by Nupur Biyani, Anuradha’s daughter. This is confirmed by text exchanges between the two starting on 28 September over WhatsApp. Takle asked Nupur to send him images of Loya’s post-mortem, and Nupur asks how she should send the images over. Subsequently, she also sent Takle the images of her mother’s diary entries from the period surrounding Loya’s death, which were cited in his reports.
Takle’s reporting on Loya’s death stretched over a year, and he spoke multiple times to members of the judge’s family, including Nupur, Anuradha, Harkishan, Sarita and Anuj. Before his reports were published, the family asked him many times when they would come out.
Just prior to the video-recorded interview with Harkishan and Sarita on 17 November 2017, Anuradha, using WhatsApp with a number under her daughter’s name, sent Takle the address where he should meet them. After the interview, Anuradha texted, “Sir interview satisfied,” to which Takle replied, “Yes yes….It was very good.” She responded, “OK sir.”
The family’s last interaction with Takle before it went incommunicado was on 21 November 2017, the day after The Caravan’s first report appeared. Anuradha Biyani, using her daughter’s phone, texted Takle to say, “Sir I don’t have any problem, but the family at home is panicking.”
Given this background, it seems the family, under duress, has deliberately chosen to give statements to the SID that can be easily refuted by available evidence.
UNEXPLAINED LAPSES IN RECORD-KEEPING AT RAVI BHAWAN
None of the four judges’ statements submitted to the Supreme Court explain why Loya’s name does not appear in the occupancy register of Ravi Bhawan, the guest house where he stayed in Nagpur. This is even though two of the judges who made those statements were staying at Ravi Bhawan on Loya’s final night. The SID report also fails to account for why entries in the register have been manipulated, as reported by The Caravan.
In copies of pages of the register made available by the Maharashtra government in response to requests under the Right to Information Act, it appears that the occupancy register at the guest house is maintained in such a fashion that even the names of guests with the highest levels of security coverage in the country are entered in it. For example, an entry from March 2015, three months after Loya’s death, shows the name of Amit Shah. Right below this is an entry in the name of an Anil Singh. (The Caravan was unable to ascertain whether this is the same Anil Singh who is an additional solicitor general of India, and is currently representing the Central Bureau of Investigation as it opposes a PIL challenging Shah’s earlier discharge in the Sohrabuddin case.) Such is the care taken to ensure that no guest is left out of the register that there is even an additional entry written into the column for Singh’s entry to accommodate the name of UU Lalit, a justice of the Supreme Court. If such meticulous record-keeping is the norm at Ravi Bhawan, it is difficult to understand why Loya’s name was not entered in the register.
Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.