After four senior Supreme Court judges questioned the allocation of cases by the Chief Justice of India, triggered apparently by allocation of the case related to the death of judge Brijgopal Loya, the two petitions related to the death were heard on Monday by a bench comprising of the CJI, Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud. A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and MM Shantanagoudar were earlier hearing the case.
Even as the tug-of-war over the controversial death continues, with some demanding an investigation into the judge’s death and others claiming he died of natural causes, facts on his death seem to be few and far between, as an opinion article in the Scroll.in noted recently. This is mostly because documents, usually more reliable than memory, have also been questioned and eyewitnesses to Loya’s final moments have not spoken to anybody yet.
The only information that hasn’t been disputed in the whole imbroglio is this: that Loya was alive until late on November 30, 2014, and had attended a wedding in Nagpur. On December 1, 2014, he was dead.
His final moments remain the most disputed with testimonies and documents varying across reports. In the five sections below, we summarise what different media reports say about those final moments and the extent to which they establish facts.
(All italics added for emphasis)
With no eyewitnesses giving any information, reporters have used either documents or information from people with second-hand knowledge of the sequence of events to recreate the final moments of the judge. Unnamed sources, who have also spoken about this period of time, are not listed here.
Anuradha Biyani (Judge Loya’s sister), Sarita Mandhane (sister), and Harkishan Loya (father) : Two judges who had reportedly insisted that Loya travel to Nagpur came to meet the his family 1-1.5 months after Loya’s death. Information attributed to the two in the summary below comes from what the judges told the family in the meeting and what Loya’s immediate family might have told them, unless stated otherwise. The Caravan, to whom the two spoke, hasn’t reported which family members were present during the meeting.
Justice Bhushan Gavai and Justice Sunil Shukre: Justice Gavai told NDTV that he met Judge Loya at the Nagpur wedding. It is not clear from reports what conversations took place there. After the wedding, Gavai told The Indian Express that he and Shukre saw Loya at the Meditrina hospital.
Occupancy register of Ravi Bhavan: The Caravan examined occupancy register of Ravi Bhavan on December 3, 2017. This examination and 26 pages of occupancy register provided by the Maharashtra PWD in response to an RTI application by The Caravan also show inconsistencies the way the register is filled at the time of Loya was staying there. Judge Loya reportedly told Sharmila that he was staying at Ravi Bhavan.
Maharashtra Public Works Department records: VL Moroney, a sectional engineer with the PWD, looked at the records for Scroll.in. It is not clear if the reporters looked at the records themselves too. The department is responsible for management of Ravi Bhavan, according to reports.
Post-mortem report: A copy of the report can be seen here. However, the police constable stated to have brought the corpse in the post-mortem report to the mortuary is quoted by Scroll.in as saying that he went directly the medical college on the day after getting a call from Sitabuldi police station.
Judge Loya’s family says he was staying with two judges. All documents point to the two being a certain Mr Kulkarni and Mrs Phansalkar, but don’t spell exact identity. But Justice Gavai has suggested in some reports that the second judge was not Phansalkar.
With two judges (name not in report) “he had accompanied to Nagpur” at Ravi Bhavan. It appears from the Caravan report that these two judges were also the ones who had insisted that he accompany them to Nagpur although he didn’t wish to go earlier.
Justice Bhushan Gavai
With fellow judges Shridhar Kulkarni and Shriram Madhusudan Modak according to statement quoted in the report by The Indian Express.
“At about 3:30 am, when Judge Loya began feeling uneasy, he was driven to a local hospital accompanied by a court official and a judge from Mumbai with whom he was sharing a room, recalled Justice Gavai,” an NDTV report says.
Occupancy Register at Ravi Bhavan
Suites 10 and 20 registered to S Kulkarni (registrar of the Bombay High Court) and Smt Phansalkar-Joshi (registrar general of the Bombay High Court) at the time Loya was staying at Ravi Bhavan.
At the time of Loya’s death, a judge named Shrikant Kulkarni was registrar of the Bombay High Court, a follow-up report by The Caravan says. Shalini Shashank Phansalkar-Joshi is currently listed as a Bombay High Court judge on the court’s website.
Maharashtra Public Works Department Records
Against Suite numbers 10 and 20, the names Mr Kulkarni and Mrs Phansalkar (first name initial or designation not in this record, creating ambiguity about Kulkarni’s identity) are written. Moroney suggested people other than the two people could also have stayed in the rooms.
The people interviewed for the reports say the judge died either at 12:30 am, or 3:30 am, or 4 am. The post-mortem report records the time at which chest pain was observed as 4 am.
Two judges who had insisted that Loya travel to Nagpur and had accompanied him told the family 1-1.5 months after Loya’s death that he had experienced chest pain at around 12:30 am on December 1, 2014, reports by The Caravan say.
“As per police died on 1/12/14 at 0615 hours. H/O sudden chest pain on 01/12/14 at 0400 am,” the post-mortem report says. The number ‘01’ in ‘01/12/14’ is superimposed on another number. It is not known who told the police when Loya experienced chest pain.
Justice Bhushan Gavai
“He experienced a health problem around 4 am,” Gavi told The Indian Express. To NDTV, he stated the time was around 3:30 am.
Two people associated with the judiciary took Loya to Dande, according to most accounts. The exact identities of these two people still remain in dispute. While the family of Judge Loya says they were told that he was taken to the hospital in an auto rickshaw, others say he was taken in a car.
The two judges who visited the Loya family after 1-1.5 months “told the family that Loya experienced chest pain at around 12.30 am, that they then took him to Dande Hospital in an auto rickshaw”, the Caravan report says.
“(Local judge) Vijaykumar Barde and then Deputy Registrar of the Nagpur bench of the High Court Rupesh Rathi first took him to Dande Hospital (3 km from the guest house) in two cars,” he told The Indian Express.
“He was driven to a local hospital accompanied by a court official and a judge from Mumbai with whom he was sharing a room, recalled Justice Gavai,” an NDTV report says on the other hand.
Justice Sunil Shukre
“Judge Barde drove him to Dande Hospital in his own car,” he told The Indian Express
Shrikant Kulkarni, described as friend. This information is based on documents currently at Nagpur’s Sadar police station which Scroll.in accessed briefly, according to its report.
The family says they were informed of death at 5 am. Others say Loya died at 6:15 am, .
Anuradha Biyani, Harkishan Loya, Sarita Mandhane
They received an early morning call on December 1, 2014 from person identifying himself as Judge named Barde informing of the judge’s death. Mandhane recalls the time of call made to her as around 5 am.
“As per police died on 1/12/14 at 0615 hours,” the report says.
According to statements given to the Indian Express and NDTV, he was informed of death at 6:30 am purportedly by the High Court Registrar.
Apart from these differences, there are others too. An ECG report – shown as proof that Loya died of natural causes – has also been mired in controversy. There are no undisputed accounts of the period after Loya’s death either. The questions (The Caravan has a list of them here) surrounding the judge’s death seem to have only increased.
It is likely that as the litigation in Supreme Court proceeds or as and when there is an investigation, there will be more testimonies and details to look at. As the summary above shows, we must then ask how we learnt those details as much as what those details are. That is perhaps the only way we can reach closer to the truth about Judge’ Loya’s death.