Rejecting petitions for an independent investigation into Judge BH Loya case, the Supreme Court said, “These petitions are scandalous”

Death of Judge BH Loya, who was hearing Sohrabuddin case, won’t be investigated, Supreme Court said today

NEW DELHI:  The death of judge BH Loya in 2014 while deciding on murder charges against BJP president Amit Shah will not be investigated, the Supreme Court said today, calling petitions for an independent probe “scandalous” and a “frontal attack on the judiciary”. A bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra also found the petitions in criminal contempt, based on the statement of four Mumbai judges who were with judge Loya at the time and had asserted that he died of natural causes. 48-year-old judge Loya was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, in which Amit Shah was an accused, when he died of a heart attack in Maharashtra’s Nagpur, where he was attending a wedding. The judge who replaced judge Loya ruled there was not enough evidence against Amit Shah to merit a trial and discharged the BJP chief. The top court, without any anyone, said it “takes strong exception to Insinuation made that one individual controls judiciary”.

The three-judge bench that included chief justice Dipak Misra held Loya’s death as “natural” and said the petitions were a “misuse of the judicial process”.

“PIL jurisdiction is being brazenly used by those who have an agenda to settle scores. The true face of the petition is seldom unravelled. It’s a serious concern as frivolous PILs detract court’s time from hearing genuine petitions of personal liberty,” the judges said. “There is no reason to doubt the consistent statements by judges who accompanied Judge Loya to Nagpur.”

The Supreme Court also condemned the petitioners for referring to cases not related to the Judge Loya case, and said “unfounded aspersions” were cast on high court judges and insinuations were made that one individual was controlling the judiciary.

The court pulled up the petitioners’ lawyers for making “scurrilous” remarks against the judiciary and doubting the statement of the high court judges. It said the action amounts to contempt against the petitioner for “scandalising” the judiciary but doesn’t issue notice.

Judge Loya, who was hearing the alleged Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, died of a cardiac arrest on December 1, 2014, in Nagpur, where he had gone to attend the wedding of a colleague’s daughter. BJP chief Amit Shah, among others, was named in the Sohrabuddin case and later discharged.

The issue of Judge Loya’s death came under the spotlight in November last year after media reports quoted his sister as raising suspicion about the circumstances surrounding it and linking it to the Sohrabuddin case. But Loya’s son in January this year said his father died of natural causes.

A clutch of petitions, including those filed by activist Tehseen Poonawala and Maharashtra-based journalist BS Lone, was moved in the Supreme Court seeking an independent probe into the alleged mysterious death of Judge Loya, which the court had termed as a “serious matter”.

In March, the Supreme Court bench had reserved judgment on the pleas.

The Maharashtra government, opposing the petitions in the top court, argued that all the pleas seeking an independent probe into the judge’s death were motivated and aimed at targeting “one individual” in the guise of upholding the rule of law.

It came down heavily on the alleged accusations, bullying and browbeating of judges in the top court by some activist lawyers and said the judiciary and judicial officers need to be saved from such averments.

Those seeking a probe, however, referred to the sequence of events to highlight that a fair investigation was needed to rule out any foul play in Judge Loya’s death.

Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a small-time criminal, was allegedly gunned down by a team of policemen from Gujarat and Rajasthan in November 2005 when he was on his way from Hyderabad to Sangli. The case includes the alleged killing of his wife Kausar BI and their associate Tulsiram Prajapati.

Besides Shah, Rajasthan home minister Gulabchand Kataria, Rajasthan-based businessman Vimal Patni, former Gujarat police chief PC Pande, additional director general of police Geeta Johri and Gujarat police officers Abhay Chudasama and NK Amin have already been discharged in the Sohrabuddin case.

Here’s your 10-point cheatsheet to this big story:
  1. While rejecting a probe, the Supreme Court said “we can’t doubt the statements of the judicial officers who were with Loya” in his last hours.
  2. Judges J Kulkarni, J Barde, J Modak and JRR Rathi have stated that the death of Judge Loya was “natural and unfortunate”. The Supreme Court said: “Business rivalries to be resolved in market and political rivalries in the hall of democracy. It is the court’s duty to protect law.”
  3. During the hearing, it was argued that the two other judges besides the Chief Justice, AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, should exit the case as they are from Mumbai.
  4. Five petitions called for an independent inquiry after questions were raised about the death last year. In an interview to the Caravan magazine, judge Loya’s sister Anuradha Biyani questioned the circumstances of his death. Another relative alleged that judge Loya was offered a huge bribe and was under immense mental pressure.  The Maharashtra police rubbished the family’s claims.
  5. Amid renewed speculation, Judge Loya’s son Anuj Loya said in January that the family no longer had any suspicion about the death. “There was some suspicion before due to emotional turmoil, but now it is clear,” Anuj Loya told reporters.
  6. The Maharashtra government told the top court that the petitions were motivated and the judge’s death was being politicized since he was connected with a criminal case in which a person heading a political party had been discharged.
  7. Petitioners calling for a probe pointed out that the judge didn’t drink and led an active life, playing tennis every day for two hours. He or his family had no history of heart ailments, the court was told.
  8. The case became a rallying point for the opposition, which said there was a threat to democracy when lawyers and judges working on important cases were targeted. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi met President Ram Nath Kovind with a group of lawmakers, asking for an independent investigation into judge Loya’s death.
  9. The Congress also alleged that besides judge Loya, two men he reportedly confided in about pressure and threats — lawyer Shrikant Khandalkar and district judge Prakash Thombre —  died mysteriously. In 2015, lawyer Shrikant Khandalkar fell to his death from the sixth floor of a district court building. The next year, Prakash Thombre fell from the top berth inside a train coach and his spine broke.
  10. The judge Loya case was at the centre of an unprecedented rift within the Supreme Court earlier this year. The case was reassigned after four most senior judges went public with the allegation that the chief justice was assigning cases with “far-reaching consequences” to junior judges.