India’s supreme court won’t allow an investigation into a judge’s mysterious death

Under a cloud.
Under a cloud.
Image: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri
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India’s supreme court today (April 19) decided there will be no further probe into the death of Brijgopal Harkishen Loya.

A judge presiding over a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court, Loya died under seemingly peculiar circumstances in December 2014. The special CBI court was looking into the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, who was gunned down by the Gujarat police in 2005.

The supreme court bench comprising chief justice Dipak Misra and justices DY Chandrachud and AM Khanwilkar dismissed multiple petitions seeking an investigation into Loya’s death. The bench had earlier transferred to itself all such pleas, ordering other courts to not entertain any more petitions related to the case.

“There is no reason to disbelieve the sequence of events leading to the death as narrated by the four judicial officers namely Shrikant Kulkarni, Shriram Modak, R Rathi, and Vijay Kumar Barde and the assertions of Bombay high court justices Bhushan Gawai and Sunil Shukre,” the bench said, according to legal news website Live Law.

The matter of Loya’s death resurfaced late last year after The Caravan magazine published a series of reports questioning the circumstances surround his passing and pointed at major procedural discrepancies.

According to medical records, Loya suffered a cardiac arrest which caused his death, although forensic experts raised doubts over the records. It was reported that Loya’s autopsy may have been manipulated. His family had also said that, days before his death, the judge was offered Rs100 crore ($15 million) for a favourable ruling in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case, which allegedly also involved Amit Shah, previously Gujarat’s minister of state for home affairs and current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president. Within days of Loya’s death, the replacement judge discharged Shah in the case, saying there was no need for a trial.

The controversy around an investigation into Loya’s death may have also played a part in the unprecedented crisis in the supreme court this January when four sitting justices publicly took on chief justice Misra over the apex court’s administration. Among other things, the judges were concerned about the allocation of certain cases to specific benches.

With today’s ruling, a senior supreme court advocate said, “the court has played safe but may have lost the perception battle.”