Maharashtra Says Independent Probe Into Judge Loya’s Death Will Destroy Rule of Law

Mukul Rohatgi turned the petitioners’ argument on its head with regard to the testimonies of the judges who were present on the night when Judge Loya died in 2014.

New Delhi: The Maharashtra government on Friday twisted the petitioners’ argument before the Supreme Court on its head by submitting that if an independent probe is ordered into Judge Loya’s death, it would destroy rule of law and independence of judiciary.   

Indeed, it was the petitioners’ contention before the Supreme Court throughout the hearing that if the court wanted to safeguard the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, it should order an independent and impartial probe into the death of the judge under “suspicious” circumstances on December 1, 2014, in Nagpur. 

As the Supreme Court bench, comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, concluded the hearing of the arguments, the bench was left wondering which of the rival contentions before it should be accepted. 

The senior counsel for the Maharashtra government, Mukul Rohatgi, completed his arguments by suggesting that the bench need not concern itself about the rival contentions over Judge Loya’s medical condition, and whether he had a heart attack or not, as the bench was not making a medical appraisal.   

Rohatgi said so after bringing to the bench’s notice that Dr R.K. Sharma, former head of the forensic medicine and toxicology department at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, had backtracked what he was reported to have told Caravan magazine during an interview.

Dr Sharma, after examining Loya’s post-mortem report, and the related histopathology report, had ruled out death due to a heart attack. Rather, according to him, the documents showed signs of trauma to the brain and even possible poisoning. 

Prashant Bhushan, however, challenged the reported denial of Dr Sharma, alleging that he was coerced to contradict. The bench, however, was, in no mood to listen to Bhushan, and advised him to respond to Rohatgi through written submissions. He told the bench, as it was rising, that Dr Upendra Kaul, India’s reputed cardiologist, and a former professor of cardiology at AIIMS, who too doubted the theory of heart attack behind Judge Loya’s death, has received a lot of calls, questioning his opinion of the ECG report on Judge Loya. Bhushan suggested that the campaign against these two reputed specialists appears to have been orchestrated.

Turning the petitioners’ argument on its head

The thrust of Rohatgi’s submission was that there were four high court judges and five district judges who, were with Judge Loya at various times during the final moments from November 29, 2014, to early morning of  December 1, 2014, when he died.

As the judiciary was above the police, the permission of the chief justice of the high court was sought to record their statements, he said. “It would have been demeaning to question the judges on the sequence of events; therefore, they were asked what they remembered of that day,” Rohatgi said, justifying the respectful approach of the police while preparing the discreet inquiry into Judge Loya’s death.

To Rohatgi, the discrepancy in the Judges’  statements with regard to the sequence of events is irrelevant. Caravan said  Loya was taken in an auto after he complained of chest pain, whereas one of the judges said he took him in his car. There is a limit to absurdity. This magazine is completely irresponsible,” he said.

Rohatgi argued that using the unfortunate death of a judge as a facade, the petitioners in this case had done immense harm to the judiciary, by targeting one individual. He claimed that their arguments in favour of cross-examination of the judges as witnesses, and issuing of contempt notice to the Bombay high court’s administrative committee for violating the Supreme Court’s order not to transfer the Judge hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case, would destroy rule of law. 

“They even questioned the hearing of the case by two of you (Justice Khanwilkar and Justice Chandrachud), as you belong to Maharashtra. They woke up after three years (after the incident). And then they said all the judges were speaking in one voice, with the innuendo that they did so, because of external influence. It is neither bona fide, nor would it uphold the dignity of rule of law,” he further contended.

Rohatgi cautioned the bench, especially the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, as he is the paterfamilias, that it has the obligation to ensure rule of law prevails, and judges remain independent.  “Your lordship has shown immense patience to hear this. If this pernicious tendency is allowed, judiciary will not remain independent. One word from your lordship, will create doubt about these four high court judges and five district Judges, who have no axe to grind,” he added.

Rohatgi concluded: “You have the full power. It is a sensitive matter. The CJI has recently recommended impeachment proceedings against a high court judge. The threshold cannot be the same for all. If you doubt, all these judges will become witnesses. You have the full power. It is a sensitive matter. Fact of the matter is judge Loya did not die alone. The judges were with him when he died. Everybody cannot be compromised. Their [the petitioners] objective is to keep it boiling by creating a frenzy. The state is ready to comply with any direction.” 

The bench has since reserved its judgment.