The Congress party on Wednesday demanded the Supreme Court (SC) order an “independent” investigation into the “mystery” around the death in 2014 of judge B H Loya, retired district judge Prakash Thombre and Nagpur-based lawyer Shrikant Khandalkar.
The party said it was adding its voice to that of the four SC judges who’d also referred to the case in their conference on January 12, and had said democracy was in peril.
Congress leader Kapil Sibal said the SC or the Bombay High Court should constitute an independent special investigation team (SIT) to probe Loya’s death, and those of two others to whom judge Loya had reportedly turned for help.
Sibal said if the Bombay HC failed in its job to take cognisance of these deaths, the Congress would launch an agitation to take the issue to the villages, about how lives of judges and lawyers were at risk. Sibal said the SC-monitored SIT should not have any officers from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
Loya was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case when he purportedly died of cardiac arrest while in Nagpur to attend the wedding of a colleague’s daughter on November 30, 2014.
Sibal said judge Loya’s sister had alleged her brother was under pressure to pass an order favourable to the accused and to discharge them, and that he was offered Rs 1 billion and a residential flat in Mumbai.
Sibal, party leaders and Satish Uke, a Nagpur-based lawyer and whistle-blower in the case, said Loya’s wasn’t the only mysterious death in the case. Sibal said Loya had sought help from his friends in Mumbai but couldn’t get support. In October 2014, Loya approached Uke through Nagpur lawyer Shrikant Khandalkar and retired district judge Prakash Thombre.
Sibal said Thombre and Khandalkar, and a fourth unknown person, facilitated a video call between Loya and Uke. According to Sibal and Uke, in the video call, Loya named people were pressurising him, including senior judges and leading politicians, to pass a discharge order in the case. In November, 2014, Uke, Thombre and one of their friends travelled to Delhi to take the opinion of a senior lawyer but returned disappointed when the lawyer said the evidence was not sufficient.
On November 30, 2014, Loya died in Nagpur. Sibal said there was evidence available that the judge’s security cover, which he was entitled to as a special CBI judge, was withdrawn on November 24. He said there was no record of Loya travelling to Nagpur and there are several other contradictions and infirmities, including in the autopsy report, that arouse suspicion.
Sibal said Khandalkar also told Uke he was receiving threats. A year after judge Loya’s death, Khandalkar also died. Sibal said his body was found in the district court premises of Nagpur. He said Khandalkar allegedly fell from the eighth floor of the building on November 29, 2015. He had been missing for two days.
According to Uke, retired judge Thombre had also received threats. Sibal said Thombre died suspiciously while travelling in a train from Nagpur to Bengaluru on May 16, 2016. “There is no FIR (First Information Report) till date in this incident,” Sibal said. Sibal said Uke had also been threatened repeatedly.
An attempt on his life was made on June 8, 2016, when an iron material of about 5,000 kg suddenly fell on the roof of the shed he used as his office, Sibal said. Uke escaped as he had stepped out of the office barely a minute before the incident.
“This is what the four judges were saying when talked about democracy being in peril,” Sibal said, in a reference to the press conference of SC judges Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Josesh, J Chelameswar and Madan B Lokur on January 12, and their letter to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.
Currently, the SC is hearing a public interest litigation seeking an independent probe into Judge Loya’s death. Former Navy chief Admiral (retired) L Ramdas has also filed a plea in the SC seeking an independent inquiry by a panel of retired apex court judges and former police officers into judge Loya’s death.
Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah was one of the accused in the Sheikh encounter case in which he was later discharged.