In the four days since disturbing details have emerged about the death of Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, the judge who was hearing the matter of the allegedly staged encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, only a few have spoken out on the investigation published by the Caravan.
One of the few to publicly express his concern, AP Shah, the former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, told NDTV, "His family feels very strongly that there was some foul play in his death. Now there was a long list of circumstances starting from the fact that there was blood on his clothes, and somebody signed the postmortem report as it is. They feel that there is something wrong with the conclusion that he died of cardiac arrest."
Speaking to the Wire, Shah said, "It is necessary that the chief justice of the high court or the Chief Justice of India himself should look into this material and decide whether to order an enquiry, because if these allegations are not investigated it causes serious stigma on the judiciary."
In 2014, Loya presided over the special court set up by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Mumbai to decide whether Amit Shah, then Home Minister of Gujarat and now the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was involved in the death of a local gangster named Sohrabuddin.
In 2012, the Supreme Court had ordered the trial to be shifted from Gujarat to Maharashtra and for one judge to hear the case from start to finish.
Loya, however, was the second judge to hear the Sohrabuddin case after judge JT Utpat was transferred in June 2015, shortly after he had admonished Shah for failing to appear in court. Six months on, Loya died and his death was reported as a heart attack. Within weeks of Loya's death, MB Gosavi, the judge who replaced him, had exonerated Shah.
The CBI had accused Shah of running an extortion racket with Sohrabuddin. But after the two allegedly fell out, the Sohrabuddin and his wife Kauser Bi were picked up by the Gujarat's Anti-Terrorist Squad on November 22, 2005 and they were killed in a staged gun battle near Gandhinagar. His aide Tulsiram Prajapati, a key witness in the case, was allegedly shot dead by the Gujarat police in December 2006.
In 2015, Rubabuddin Sheikh, Sohrabuddin's brother, had moved the Bombay High Court against the CBI court's decision to acquit Shah. But then, at the end of the year, Rubabuddin informed the court that he was voluntarily withdrawing his plea against Shah. "I am mentally troubled and feeling helpless. That's why I have decided to withdraw. I can't say anything more," he told the Hindu at the time.
Meanwhile, the case against 22 persons, accused of murder, abduction and destruction of evidence, continues in the CBI special court.
Inconsistencies in Loya's death
The Caravan investigation, published earlier this week, pointed out several inconsistencies regarding Loya's death including the time of his death and the condition in which is body was returned to his family.
On November 30, 2014, Loya was in Nagpur attending a wedding. At 11 pm, he phoned his wife on his mobile phone and spoke to her for around 40 minutes. On the morning of December 1, 2014, an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker named Ishwar Baheti informed his family about his death. To this day, the family does not know how Baheti came to know about the judge's death and why he was involved in moving the body to the judge's native village of Gategaon.
It was Baheti, not the police, who returned Loya's mobile phone to his family, three to four days after his death.
The family was also shocked that Loya's body was accompanied only by the ambulance driver. Neither of the two judges, who had insisted that he come with them to Nagpur for the wedding, making it to Gategaon.
Then, there was condition of the body. Anuradha Biyani, the judge's sister, told reporter Niranjan Takle that she felt that something was amiss when she saw his body, which had bloodstains on the neck and at the back of the shirt. Biyani's diary entry from the time reads: "There was blood on his collar. His belt was twisted in the opposite direction, and the pant clip is broken. Even my uncle feels that this is suspicious."
In the post-mortem report, issued by the Government Medical College Hospital in Nagpur, the condition of clothes was described as "dry."
The time of death also raises questions. The Caravan report pointed out that time of death on Loya's post mortem report said 6:15 am, but his family members had started receiving calls about his demise at 5:00 am on December 1. People at the Nagpur's Government Medical College and Sitabardi police station told Takle that they had been informed of Loya's death by midnight and they had seen the body during the night.
"Do you want a house in Mumbai?"
The judge's sister, Biyani, told Takle that Loya had told her about Mohit Shah, the then chief justice of the Bombay High Court, offering him a bribe of ₹100 crore in return for a favourable judgment. According to Biyani, Mohit Shah "would call him late at night to meet in civil dress and pressure him to issue the judgment as soon as possible and to ensure that it is a positive judgment."
Loya's father Harkishan said that his son had refused to succumb to bribes like "Do you want a house in Mumbai, how much land do you want, how much money do you want, he used to tell us this. This was an offer."
In a Facebook post published on Wednesday, Vinod K Jose, executive editor of the Caravan, commented on the limited coverage the news magazine's investigation has received from the mainstream media.
"When English press and urbanite intellectuals shy away, language press, just like the time of the British, shows much more boldness. Mathrubhumi, with histories intertwining with freedom movement, and sells today 1.5 million copies has the story on the front page. Then for Deshabhimani and Madhyamam it is really the biggest news. And Manorama covered it yesterday and today. Kannada, Tamil too followed. Gujarati I hear one did. But the quietness of the English and the Hindi press makes us worry for India, he wrote.
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