Why Indian Express report on Justice Loya’s death should be taken with a lump of salt

The so-called investigative report debunking The Caravan story is not just unconvincing, it relies on an ECG report that is wrongly dated and overlooks other aspects of the case

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Faraz Ahmad

To commemorate the dastardly attack by Pakistani terrorists on Mumbai on November 26, 2008, the last bastion of presumed fair and bold reporting among mainstream national English dailies, The Indian Express, also crumbled on November 26 while ironically commending those who braved the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai from the seashore with an ostentatious display at the Gateway of India amidst a galaxy of VIPs led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, and BJP’s unapologetic apologists like Amitabh Bachchan, Prasoon Joshi and even the chief minister’s wife and an aspiring singer, Amruta Fadnavis. Audaciously called ‘Stories of Strength,’ they were present for this big photo opportunity with the survivors of 26/11.

But this is a world of give and take and unabashed trade offs. Lo and behold The Indian Express’s big “investigative” story debunking the Caravan report of mystery surrounding the death of Judge Birjmohan Loya on December 1, 2014. The judge was hearing the case of alleged involvement of BJP president Amit Shah in the “fake encounter” killing of Sohrabuddin Shaikh, his wife Kausar Bi and his friend Tulsiram Prajapati in Gujarat way back in November 2005.

This so-called “investigative report” certainly does not qualify as a ‘Story of Strength’. Rather it seems as if the Express too has finally succumbed to the strong arm tactics of the ruling establishment. The Express won’t tell us and those whose diktat now runs this country and its institutions would naturally raise their eyebrows even at raising a question. The Express has taken great pains to contradict the Caravan story. But equally or more distressing is the expose of the corrosion of our judiciary and the Express story is not convincing enough to dispel the dark apprehensions about the compromise of our respected judges which comes out in the Caravan report.

The crux of the story by Niranjan Takle through painstaking research over one year was that in 2012, the Supreme Court, on a petition filed by Sohrabuddin’s brother Rubabuddin, decided in the interest of justice to transfer this case to Mumbai and ordered that it be heard only by a single judge. The case in which Amit Shah was the main accused was then taken up by Justice JT Utpat who held the hearings. But Amit Shah continued playing truant and didn’t appear in any of the hearings. Finally on June 6, 2014, when Shah again sought exemption from appearing in court, Judge Utpat reprimanded Shah’s counsel and on the next hearing on June 20, he fixed June 26 as the final date on which date Shah was ordered to appear in the court under any circumstance. By this time, the Modi government was in office and the BJP writ ran all over. So on June 25, much against the Supreme Court’s express instructions, Justice Utpat was transferred out and after a while, Justice Brijmohan Loya was handed over the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case.

Here, Shah’s counsel pleaded that since Shah was now the BJP president and was preoccupied with much more important work, he be exempted from personal appearance, which he was granted by Loya. But on October 31, 2014, Justice Loya noted that Shah failed to appear in the court even when he was in Mumbai. So he pulled up his counsel and set the next date of hearing for December 15. But before he could proceed any further, he died a mysterious death in Nagpur on December 1.

Niranjan Takle, the reporter concerned, described it as mysterious, based on the testimony of Loya’s father Harkishan, his sister Anuradha Biyani, a doctor in a government hospital in Dhule and another sister Sarita Mandhane, a teacher who runs a tuition centre in Aurangabad. Niranjan got on to this story when Loya’s niece, Nupur, the daughter of Anuradha, who while studying in Mumbai was staying with the Loya family, approached Niranjan in November, 2016 ,almost two years after Loya’s death, expressing her suspicion and doubt about the circumstances surrounding the judge’s death. Prior to that, the entire family was far too terrified to report this to anyone outside because they, including Loya’s wife, son and daughter were expressly instructed by fellow judges not to talk to anyone outside. Otherwise his sister had initially asked for a second post mortem to establish the real cause of death but was expressly advised against it.

Anuradha’s contention was that Judge Loya, barely 48 years old at the time of his death, had no prior history of cardiac problems nor was beset by any similar family history since both his parents over 80 years were still alive and in general healthy condition. He was also a very athletic person playing table tennis every evening for two hours. He was a teetotaler and had never smoked. He had no cholesterol or blood sugar problem either. Such a sudden and so massive a cardiac attack will appear unusual to any layman, leave alone a doctor and she pointed this out.

Also, he was reluctant to go to Nagpur for this wedding but was persuaded by his two judge colleagues namely Bhushan Gavai and Sunil Shukre. Around 5 am on December 1, a caller called up the family members all from different stations of Maharashtra to inform them of the death of Jusitce Loya and the body being dispatched to their ancestral home in Gategaon where his father lived. Strangely when the body arrived in Gategaon, according to Dr Anuradha, except for the driver of the ambulance, no one was accompanying it, least of all the two judges who had dragged Justice Loya to Nagpur against his will. The family also noticed blood on the shirt collar and the back side of the body. It is common knowledge that whenever the patient is treated in the hospital the first thing they do is to remove the patient’s clothes and most certainly at the time of forensic examination and even if these were put back on the body after the autopsy had completed, there was no case for blood spots on the patient’s clothes, according to medical experts.

Dr Anuradha Biyani also told the Caravan reporter that “my brother told me that (the then) Bombay High Court Chief Justice, Jusitce Mohit Shah, had ‘made an offer to my brother of Rs 100 crore and a flat in Bombay in exchange for a favourable judgment.” Apart from Anuradha, other family members including the deceased judge’s father Harkishan and niece Nupur all endorsed the doctor’s charge saying that Justice Loya had confided in them that he was under grave tension since he was handed over this very sensitive case.

On the very day The Indian Express held its spectacular colourful show at Bombay’s Gateway of India, it put out this story debunking the thesis of any intrigue or subterfuge in Judge Loya’s sudden death.

So the Express carried a story saying nothing was amiss in Justice Loya’s sudden death stating, “The investigation (Express independent) revealed that the crucial claims in the Caravan report--- that the ‘ECG was not working,’ that someone unknown to the family picked up the body, that the judge was virtually abandoned after his death and that his body was sent to his village home unescorted--- are not supported by evidence on the ground, including official records.

To disprove Dr Anuradha’s charge of the ECG not working at Dande Hospital where he was ostensibly first taken, the paper carried a facsimile of an ECG, which on closer observation showed the date and time as November 30, 2014 at 5.11 am whereas the same report claims that he suffered a heart attack on December 1 around 4 am and rushed to the hospital. How did this come about? Was this manufactured after the Caravan story appeared? Nobody knows nor will perhaps ever in future because this proves that there has been a lot of fudging and manipulation of records done in a desperate and hurried cover-up bid.

The family says no one accompanied the body. The two judges, who have now very mysteriously resurfaced, claim that the two judges of Nagpur along with a driver and constable did follow the ambulance in their car, but it met with an accident in Nanded and were therefore “slightly delayed.” Nevertheless, they did reach the venue of the cremation and did attend his last rites. But there is no explanation why the two judges, Gavai and Shukre who dragged Loya to the Nagpur wedding, did not consider it necessary to go along with the body and explain the circumstances of Loya’s death to the distraught family. The family claims that it took these two judges a month and half to visit the Loya family. The two judges offered no explanation for this.

Most important, the Express story has conveniently papered over two vital facts. The most important of them is that in the very next hearing on December 30, 2014, Justice MB Gosavi who was assigned the case after Loya’s death, discharged Amit Shah. In his brief order in the court that day, Justice Gosavi stated, according to the news reports carried the next day, that, “I am of the considered opinion that the inference drawn by the CBI is not accepted in totality and he (Amit Shah) cannot be charged as an accused.”

There is also no effort in the Express “investigations” to probe the family allegation of a bribe of ₹100 crore and a flat in Bombay being offered to Loya for a favourable judgment. Their charge gained strength from two later developments. One that Amit Shah was discharged in the next hearing. Two, that Sohrabuddin’s brother Rubabuddin immediately protested against this judgment and did go in appeal against this verdict, but, evidently under some pressure, later withdrew his petition. Two other petitioners including social activist and former IAS officer Harsh Mander tried to challenge Amit Shah’s discharge but their pleas were dismissed summarily by the Bombay High Court, in spite of the circumstances in which the Gosavi judgment came.

Finally, first Haren Pandya was killed in a mysterious manner. Then Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his alleged killer, was killed in a “fake encounter.” His wife Kausar Bi and his friend Prajapati too were killed leaving no trace of any witness. With this background in mind, the Supreme Court shifted it out of Gujarat to Bombay High Court. But there the first judge was suddenly transferred and the second died. The third hurriedly discharged Amit Shah.

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