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No mystery in Judge Loya’s 'mystery death': SC dismisses probe pleas

Anurag Dey | Updated on: 19 April 2018, 13:46 IST
(Arya Sharma / Catch News)

The country may continue to debate about the mysterious death of BH Loya. But for the Supreme Court there was no mystery: the special CBI judge who was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case – in which Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah was prime accused – died a natural death.

A three-Judge Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, dismissed the petitions seeking an independent investigation into judge Loya’s death and warned the petitioners for abusing the process of public interest litigation (PIL) for political and financial motives.

Pronouncing the eagerly awaited verdict, the bench held the petitions to be “absolutely meritless”.

“PIL jurisdiction is being misused to settle political agenda. There is a great danger if this is allowed to continue. Political battles should be fought in the halls of democracy and not inside court,” said the Bench.

It castigated the petitioners’ counsels for scandalising the judiciary and casting aspersions on the Administrative Committee of the Bombay High Court, but stopped short of initiating civil contempt against the petitioner.

Among the counsels for the petitioners was Prashant Bhushan, who had been pivotal in a recent aborted attempt to bring impeachment motion against the CJI in Parliament. 

After Thursday's verdict, Bhushan said: “It is a wrong decision, and in my view it’s a black day for Supreme Court. Despite the presence of so many doubts and suspicion, the SC instead of an independent probe put a lid on judge Loya’s death. This puts a bigger question mark about the basis on which this verdict was given and at whose insistence”.

The petitions seeking a Special Investigation Team probe were filed following reports by the Caravan magazine about Loya’s family members suspecting foul play behind his death and making shocking revelations, including a bribe offer of Rs 100 crore to a top Maharashtra judge in return for a favourable judgment in favour of Shah. 

Loya died during the intervening night of 30 November and 1 December, 2014 while he was on a visit to Nagpur.

Taking over the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case after his predecessor judge JT Utpat was suddenly transferred, Loya questioned Shah’s absence during the hearing of the sensational case. 

Within a month of Loya’s death, Shah was discharged by the CBI court. 

Curiously, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which had indicted Shah of being a “part of the larger conspiracy to kill Sohrabuddin, subsequently his wife Kauser Bi and and finally Tulsiram Prajapati, did not challenge Shah’s discharge.

In the aftermath of the Caravan reports, the Maharashtra government ordered a “discreet enquiry” in the case. In it, the four judicial officers who accompanied Loya to the hospital after he complained of chest pain had denied any foul play in their statements.

The CJI Bench, while dismissing the petitions, said there was no reason to “disbelieve the sequence of events leading to the death as narrated by the four judicial officers”.

During the hearings there were also heated exchange between the rival counsels particularly Dushyant Dave, who represented one of the petitioners, and Harish Salve representing the Maharashtra.

The Loya case was also the centre to the unprecedented media conference by top SC judges Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurien Joseph. The four senior-most judges have accused the CJI of assigning importance cases that included the Loya case, “selectively to the Benches of their preference”.

The verdict has led to a political slugfest.

Welcoming the verdict, the BJP said it was a slap on the face of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who were trying to politicise the judiciary. “Congress’ conspiracy lies exposed and its attempt to score political point has failed. The people who have been politicising the judiciary for their own motives, now stand exposed,” said BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra.

Meanwhile Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the verdict will raise more questions.

“You (court) have spoken about lawyers and their personal problems that is not the issue. The issue is the lacunae in the enquiry (into Loya’s death), that has not been addressed,” said Congress leader Tehseen Poonawalla, one of the petitioners. In a series of tweets he also punched holes in the verdict.  

Another Congress leader and former Union minister Salman Khurshid said: “Many, many people will be deeply disappointed. The SC view has to be accepted and respected but what was hoped that the SC would go deeper into the affairs, something which is extremely, extremely controversial”. 

Veteran legal practitioner Majeed Memon, a Rajya Sabha member from Nationalist Congress Party, said: “Please examine the background in which this matter was heard and disposed off by this Bench. With the highest respect to it, if there was some kind of suspicion, some kind of disbelief in the minds of people that they will not get justice from a particular Bench, then the Bench ought to have recused. If he died a natural death and there is nothing suspicious about it, then what was the problem in having a probe?

Whatever the political stands be, it looked unlikely that Thursday's verdict will put the matter to rest.

First published: 19 April 2018, 13:46 IST
 
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