New Delhi: Justice BH Loya’s friend from law college, Uday Gaware, while speaking at a public meeting organised by the All India People’s Forum, an association of different civil society and political groups, stunned everyone when he said that the judge’s death was “premeditated murder”.
The meeting, held at at New Delhi’s Indian Social Institute, was called “Suspicious Death of Judge: Implications for Democracy”. It was addressed by Caravan Magazine’s Niranjan Takle, the journalist who broke the story, the magazine’s political editor Hartosh Singh Bal, former judge of the Bombay high court BG Kolse Patil, senior advocate Indira Jaising and Gaware, who is a member of Latur bar association.
Speaking in front of a packed house, the speakers demanded a probe and raised concerns over whether the executive was trying to influence the judiciary in any way.
The series of events
Loya, who in official records died in December 2014 because of a cardiac arrest, was presiding over the CBI court in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case in which BJP president Amit Shah was one of the accused. However, in November, 2017, Caravan broke a story that revealed that there were signs that multiple hospital documents related to his death may have been tampered. The family of Loya expressed its suspicion over various developments before and after his death.
It should be noted that Justice MB Gosavi, who replaced Loya in the CBI court, discharged Shah less than a month after the judge’s death. He found that Shah’s name had been dragged in the case for political reasons.
The much talked-about story on developments around Loya’s has now assumed greater proportions in light of the historic press conference by the Supreme Court’s four senior-most puisne judges who accused the chief justice of India, Dipak Misra, of allocating work to judges “selectively to the benches “of their preference”, bypassing senior judges in the process. Justice Gogoi told journalists that the press conference was prompted by issues surrounding the death of special CBI judge Loya.
“I was working on a different story when Nupur Biyani, Loya’s niece, approached me in mid-2017. She gave me details of his death which, she said, made the family suspicious. I knew these are hearsay accounts,” Takle said.
“I asked her whether her mother, Anuradha Biyani, would come on record as only she could give a first-hand account. When her mother agreed, I started working on it. I could understand that the family was quite frightened. I met Anuj, Loya’s son; he was completely silent and scared. He did not answer any of my questions. His grandfather said he has lost in belief in everything. He doesn’t believe in law, police, media, and the system. His hopelessness triggered me to get into the story in detail,” Takle said.
“All the questions I raised in the story still remain. And now new questions have emerged for which we all will have to find answers. I wrote many stories against the corruption during the Congress government too. When I set out to uncover the details of Loya’s story, it wasn’t meant to be against the BJP. As a journalist, without any fear or favour, telling the truth is the most important thing,” he added.
According to Gaware, everyone in power did their best to suppress the story until Caravan published it.
Gaware said, “If the worshippers of the pen sleep, then worshippers of the nation will sell off the country. Loya was my friend. Both of us finished our law degrees together. All his judgements were impartial. He came from a very ordinary family. He embraced death but never sold his integrity.”
“The day Loya died, the same day, people, including many judges, started telling me that Loya has been cheated. The matter was so sensitive that no one dared to file a complaint. Now I feel, we should not have been so fearful. Loya’s death was a premeditated murder,” he said, adding that if the judicial system gets paralysed, then democracy cannot be sustained.
“Loya died on December 1. On December 15, MB Gosavi replaced him, and within 15 days, he read the 10,000-page CBI chargesheet and discharged the president of a party. This (Sohrabuddin encounter case) matter was going on from 2005, but the new judge understood the case within 15 days. That is surprising,” he adds.
‘Heart of the rot’
The Caravan’s political editor, Hartosh Bal, said that exactly like the Radia tapes “dealt with the heart of the rot in the previous UPA regime” , the Loya story deals with the heart of the rot of the current regime. He said that corruption during the UPA regime involved three of the four pillars of our democracy – political class, executive and media, communal hatred and violence during the NDA regime involves all the four pillars, including the judiciary.
“To come to the Sohrabuddin trial, you have to go through a series of links that connects directly to the 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat under the watch of Narendra Modi. The first step to this was the murder of the state’s home minister Hiren Pandya and that happened because he was privy to certain details about how the administration acted during the 2002 violence. Questions over his death still remain unanswered. Questions related to his death led to the murder of Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati. And it is in this context, the suspicious death of judge Loya becomes so important because if the judiciary cannot be seen as delivering justice in this case, then the very core of democracy is under question.”
“A judge dies under circumstances which are at best questionable without a clear answer or without a probe being set up is just unacceptable. A judge who dies hearing a case in which the BJP president Amit Shah was an accused is even more unacceptable… After watching the press conference by senior SC judges, the first person who should step forward to go to the SC and say that there should be an impartial probe should be Amit Shah.”
Former high court judge Patil said, “An environment of fear in our country exists today. And this has been deliberately manufactured. Judge Loya’s death gives a message to the other judges that either accept Rs 100 crore or die. This case can open a Pandora’s box but people in power do not want that. I want to say that if a judge of such a sensitive case dies in suspicious circumstances, why should a probe not happen. Why is it so difficult for the government to get a probe done? What restricts it to initiate a probe on its own?”
Senior advocate Indira Jaising raised a central question. “Is the executive interfering with the functioning of the judiciary? I have only this question to ask. If the government interferes in its functioning, then judiciary will collapse from within.”
“I had represented the CBI in the Sohrabuddin’s encounter case. Not a single accused person could get even bail at that time. I did my duty. Today, I am told that I am an UPA agent. I reject that allegation,” she said.
She then stressed on the importance of an independent judiciary. “The four (SC) judges have done us a big favour by coming out in front of the press, recognising our right to know. It is a huge step on their part to make the judicial functioning transparent. I condemn those who are condemning the judges because they have vested interests. Who will protect the independence of judiciary. The lawyers and bar associations must stand up to protect it. It is not the government which can protect it as all governments want a loyal judiciary.”
She added that the the SC should have taken a suo motu notice of the case immediately after suspicious details about Loya’s death emerged. She alleged that SC’s Justice Arun Mishra, who has been allotted the case by the chief justice of India, should not be presiding over the case as he had a history of giving favourable judgements for the state of Gujarat, where the BJP has been power for more than 20 years.
She also invoked the medical college bribery scam to point out corrupt practices in higher judiciary and added that the civil society should come together to protect its independence and impartial nature.