Of the many examples of India’s failing justice system – there is one case that stands out – the death of Justice Brijgopal Loya. The story is confusing to almost everyone, and the suspicion surrounding his death makes it even more bizarre. This article aims to explain all the events around his death.
In June 2014, Justice Brijgopal Harkishan Loya was appointed as the presiding judge for the Sohrabuddin Sheikh murder case. In his handling of the case, Justice Loya allowed Amit Shah (who was claimed to have ordered the murder of Sheikh) to be exempt from the court during trials until the charges were framed. He was expected to be in court only when he was in Maharashtra.
Shah failed to be present in court on 31st October 2014, even though he was in Maharashtra, and Justice Loya ordered his lawyers to make sure that Shah is present in court during the next hearing- 15th December 2014.
On 30th November 2014, Justice Loya traveled to Nagpur for the wedding of a colleague’s daughter. He stayed at Ravi Bhavan, a government guest house. During his stay, he complained of chest pains, after which he was taken to two hospitals, and reported dead at 6:15 am, according to police reports.
Justice Loya’s death sparked a constitutional crisis in the country (a direct violation of Article 50 of the Directive Principle of State Policy, which requires a separation of the matters of the Executive and the Judiciary)- due to the inconsistencies leading to and after his death.
On 30th December 2014, during a hearing for the Sohrabuddin case handled by Judge M.B. Gosavi (the new judge appointed for the case after Loya’s death), Amit Shah was given a clean chit- stating that the proof provided against him was not enough.
This resulted in the case to be dismissed for years, as Loya’s death was ruled to be natural- until Caravan Magazine published an interview with Loya’s family in November 2017, raising concerning questions regarding his death, and about the condition of the body when it was handed over to the family.
The family’s point of view in the story has been published by the Caravan Magazine, while the government’s side of the story has been put forth by The Indian Express. Both the stories paint a completely different picture of what could have happened- most of which is still unclear.
The family’s side of the story:
The family claims that Loya was taken to the hospital in an auto, even when the closest auto stand was at a distance of 2kms from the guest house. Over there, no ECG was performed, as the machine was not working. Instead, some medicines were given to him, and then was shifted to Meditrina, a private hospital.
The official time of death was recorded at 6:15 am, as per the post-mortem reports. But the family says that they had begun to receive calls about his death from 5 am, by Judge Barde, who told them that Loya had died and that they should rush from Latur, where they were staying to Nagpur, where he had died.
As they were preparing to leave, Ishwar Baheti a person as described by Loya’s sister Anuradha Biyani to be an “RSS worker” somehow located them. He told them that the body was already being brought to Gategaon, and they should no go to Nagpur. He also gave her Loya’s phone, which had all the data erased.
Back in Nagpur, after the post-mortem, the report was apparently signed by a paternal cousin of the Judge, but they did not have any such family member present in Nagpur at the time. The body was then transported to Gategaon unaccompanied, except for the ambulance driver.
When the family finally received the body, they found blood stains on the judge’s shirt- on the neck and at the back. They also claimed to have seen an injury on his head.
The Government’s side of the story:
The claims made by the government clash with what the family says- to a level that both stories are almost completely opposite in their versions of the truth.
When Justice Loya began complaining of chest pains at around 4 am, Vijaykumar Barde, a local judge, drove Loya to Dande Hospital in his own car. At Dande Hospital, an ECG was performed, a report of which was reproduced by the Indian Express. The director of the hospital, Pinak Dande, was quoted saying that the ECG revealed that Loya needed specialized cardiac treatment, which was not available at the hospital, for which he was taken to Meditrina.
Curiously, the ECG report is time-stamped “05:11, 30th November 2014, that is a day before Loya was taken to the hospital. No explanation was provided for it, especially when it is so unusual for the date to be incorrect in an ECG report as they contribute to determining a person’s medical history.
The post-mortem that was conducted stated that Loya had died of cardiac arrest. The person who had signed the report, unknown to anybody was tracked down by the Indian Express and NDTV, was found to be one Prashant Rathi, who was a doctor, unrelated to anybody. He had also collected the body.
But the claims arise suspicion on grounds that if Loya’s immediate family except one sister had not been informed of the death, how did Rathi learn of it? Also, the fact that the hospital released the body without checking with any of Loya’s close relatives is skeptical in nature. The body was transported to Gategaon in an air-conditioned ambulance, and provisions of ice slabs in case the AC failed along the way. In the ambulance, there were two judges who accompanied the body, and also met Loya’s father in Gategoan.
The story is rattling so far, and to top it all, the family also claims that Judge Loya had been offered a bribe by the former Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court- which has not been addressed by anybody, and the CJ refuses to speak on that matter.
What happened after?
After the Caravan report was published on 20th November 2017, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed, alleging that Justice Loya had been murdered. The court expressed concern over this and scheduled a hearing on 15th January 2018. Over multiple hearings where the court proceeded the opposing claims made by the family and the government, on 19th April 2018 maintained that Judge Loya had died of natural causes, and closed the case.