Two days ago, a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court, that included the honorable Chief Justice, dismissed a ‘PIL’ related to the death of Justice Loya, a district judge of Maharashtra. Justice Loya was handling the Sohrabuddin case in which Amit Shah, the President of the BJP, was an accused.
Several articles have been published by various portals, giving an excellent summary of the 114 page judgement. One such article on OpIndia provides details on how the judgement has dissected many submissions of the petitioners and intervenors and established all of them to be false, and held that they were motivated by personal agendas.
In this post, I would like to point out a few contentions of the petitioners that were most glaring in terms of their insinuation and vile. There is no doubt left, if one were to read the judgement, that the primary purpose of the PIL was to cast aspersions on the judiciary. In effect, the petitioners are making a startling allegation that the lower judicial officers could have been involved in, at least, covering up the issue of Justice Loya’s death.
Statements of District Judges vs High Court Judges
On the unfortunate night when Justice Loya passed away, 4 of their colleagues were involved in shifting him to an hospital and subsequent attempts at saving him. Two of the judges, Justice Modak and Justice Kulkarni, were in fact present in the same VIP Guest House when Justice Loya complained of chest pain. The other two judges arrived there when called by these two judges.
Upon the publication of the sensational articles in Caravan magazine in November 2017, the Maharashtra Government formed a discreet enquiry committee and obtained the permission of the Bombay High Court Chief Justice to get statements from the 4 judges. This permission was granted and the 4 judges provided their statements to the committee in a very short interval.
Subsequently, two High Court Judges — Justice Gavai and Justice Shukre — who were in Nagpur on the day of the death — and whom the 4 judges and Justice Loya had met during the day (prior to the death) — gave a statement to the Indian Express about the incident. The two HC judges had opined to the newspaper that the death was due to natural causes.
Now, Mr Dave, one of the counsel for the petitioners found fault with this development. The contention was that the 4 judges belonging to the lower (district) courts could not take any opinion that went against the opinion of the High Court judges — their seniors. Hence the statement of the 4 judges could not be relied upon. Mr Dave in fact even asked for disciplinary action against the two HC judges.
The judgement of the SC bench rips apart this conspiracy theory. The allegations were levelled even without doing basic research. The statements of the 4 judges were prepared on the 23rd and 24th of November 2017 while the Indian Express article was published only on the 27th of November 2017. This is what the judgement says…
“Mr Dave submitted that judicial officers in the district judiciary could not be expected to take a plea at variance with what was stated by the two judges of the High Court. He urged that disciplinary action should be initiated against the two High Court judges. This submission is preposterous. It constitutes an undisguised attempt to malign four senior judicial officers and the judges of the High Court. What the submission glosses over is that the article in the Indian Express was published on 27 November 2017 and that was when the statements attributed to Justice Gavai and Justice Shukre were published. The statements of the four judicial officers are dated on 23 and 24 November 2017 and were in fact received by the Commissioner of the SID on 24 November 2017 much before the Indian Express article was published”
The curious case of Justice Loya’s dress
Another of the ‘concerns’ raised by the petitioners was that the entire incident started at around 4AM and the post-mortem and other documents mention that Justice Loya was wearing a shirt and jeans at the time of death. The petitioners thought that it was extremely strange that the judge was wearing jeans at night.
However, this suspicion also was without basis — and without elementary research into available material. Justice Loya did not — at once — collapse due to a heart attack that night/morning. He initially complained of chest pains following which his brother judges took him to a nearby hospital. That hospital, after initial support, suggested that the judge be transferred to a cardiac hospital. Just before they reached the bigger Meditrina hospital, the judge had breathed his last.
Excerpts from the written statements of the judges given to the discreet enquiry committee provides a clear picture of the state of Justice Loya at various times.
“…We took Shri Loya to the nearby Dande Hospital by using car of Shri Barde where emergency treatment was given to Shri Loya. Shri Waiker, Judge also joined there by his car. However chest pains continued….”
“…At about early morning probable at 4 am Judge Loya woke up. He was not feeling comfort……We shifted Judge Loya to another hospital. I do not remember the name. We shifted him in a car….”
“…Thereafter, we proceeded to Meditrina Hospital in 2 Cars. However, Shri Loya who himself sat in the Car, after some distance started Snoring-like in sleep, to whom Shri Kulkarni Sir stated to awake. When I took the Car in the porch of Meditrina Hospital, Shri Loya Sir did not awake and was rushed on a stretcher to the ICU of the said Hospital…”
“…Mr Barde came to my quarter in his car and we then immediately went to Ravi Bhavan….At Ravi Bhavan Judge Shri Modak and Shri Shrikant Kulkarni were also present. At that time Judge Loya was attending natures call. Thereafter he came down and told that he is having heart burn and having ache in his heart and requested for help…”
From the above statements, a clear picture emerges that Justice Loya was, although in pain, clearly on his own feet. It was only when they were about to reach Meditrina hospital that he truly collapsed. So it is very much natural and expected that he put on regular clothes — shirt and jeans — before heading out for treatment.
Choice of Hospital
A third allegation levelled by the petitioners in the PIL is that the 4 judges who helped Justice Loya took him to Dande Hospital first, which did not have advanced cardiac facilities. This insinuation is almost a direct attack on the 4 judges — effectively saying that they purposely took him to an hospital where he could not be saved!!
It is quite natural and common that whenever a medical emergency occurs, the goal of those attending is to rush the patient to a nearby hospital. The same was done by the 4 judges. In fact, it would have been suspicious if the opposite had happened — i.e. if Justice Loya was taken to a hospital further away! A cursory search on Google Maps shows that Dande Hospital is closer to Ravi Bhavan — the place of stay of the judges — by about a kilometre when compared with Meditrina.
The SC judgement catches the false intentions of the petitioners very well..
“…His colleagues who were with him took a decision in good faith to take him to Dande hospital which is in close proximity to Ravi bhavan. The issue in the present case is whether Judge Loya died a natural or unnatural death. To attribute motives to his colleagues who were with him and took immediate steps to shift him to a hospital nearby is absurd, if not motivated. In hindsight, it is easy to criticise actions which are taken by human beings when faced with an emergency. It is easy for an observer sitting in an arm-chair at a distant point in time to assert that wisdom lay in an alternate course of action. That can never be the test for judging human behaviour…”
Intervention of CPIL
Mr Prashant Bhushan, intervening on behalf of (his own NGO) CPIL, sought to become a party in the PIL based primarily on an article in the Caravan magazine published on 11th Feb 2018 in which it was stated that the reports related to the death were sent to Dr R K Sharma, formerly with AIIMS, who, upon analysis stated that the cause of death could not be a heart attack.
However, as soon as the above article was published, the investigating officer of the particular police station in Nagpur contacted the head of Forensic Medicine at AIIMS and sought clarification on Dr R K Sharma’s supposed opinion. AIIMS immediately constituted a committee to investigate and sought Dr Sharma’s response.
The judgement reproduces the exact response given by Dr Sharma to the AIIMS committee
“Thanks for your mail, I would like to state that I have been grossly misquoted by Caravan magazine regarding death of Judge Loya. The conclusions drawn are imaginary. I had general discussion with the reporter. I do not agree with contents of report published which are ascribed to me. I have not given any report regarding death of Judge Loya”
Subsequently, the judgement documents how the IO contacted the Forensics and Toxicology head of KEM Hospital, Mumbai — Dr Harish Pathak — and obtained his analysis. Dr Harish prepared a multi-page report (reproduced in the judgement) which analysis every single medical document prepared in relation to the attempted treatment of Justice Loya, backs it up with inputs from medical texts, and concludes the following…
“On carful perusal of all documents made and relevant medical literature on the subject, it is my opinion that,
1. Late Shri Brijgopal Harikisan Loya died due to acute coronary insufficiency, which was a sudden natural death.
2. There was no evidence to suggest any inconsistencies in the history, clinical findings and autopsy report made available to me.”
The Supreme Court judgement has identified multiple glaring inconsistencies in the submissions of the petitioners, identified the malicious intentions behind them, and, in the wake of definite evidences pointing to the natural death of Justice Loya, rightly dismissed the ‘PIL’. The attempt at levying dubious accusations at the judicial officers of this country — remains a scary concern though.