In the evening on 31 July, Satish Uke, a lawyer and activist, was arrested by the Economic Offences Wing of the Nagpur Police’s Crime Branch for offences he allegedly committed 17 years ago, in 2001. In June this year, Uke had filed a petition in the Bombay High Court demanding official compensation for the family of the late CBI judge BH Loya, on the basis of government documents showing that the judge was in Nagpur “for government work” at the time of his death. Two weeks before his arrest, Uke filed another application in the court, requesting it to entertain the petition. The court has not yet listed the petition for its first hearing. Uke has previously filed petitions accusing the chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis of electoral offences, alleging that Fadnavis filed inaccurate nominations for two state assembly elections.
According to Lalit Vartikar, the investigating officer in the case against Uke, the police arrested the activist-lawyer following a complaint by Shobharani Nalode, the secretary of a cooperative housing society in Nagpur. Vartikar said Uke had presented forged documents in order to purchase land from the society. Vartikar added that Uke has been booked under sections 120B, 420, 423, 424, 447, 465, 467, 468, 471 and 474 of the Indian Penal Code—all of which constitute offences related to conspiracy, cheating and forgery of documents.
Vartikar told us that though Nalode had filed the complaint in April, the Economic Offences Wing registered a first information report against Uke on the same day as his arrest. When we asked him about the unusual alacrity shown in this case, he said that a preliminary investigation was already ongoing against Uke since April, and that they registered the FIR because Nalode approached the police again on 31 July. That morning, right after registering the FIR, the police appeared to have concluded that the evidence furnished by the preliminary enquiry was already enough to charge Uke on 10 counts of the IPC and arrest him as well.
The Nagpur Police’s pursuit of the case is conspicuous for its timing. We asked Shivaji Bhodke, the joint commissioner of the Nagpur Police, whether any other cases of alleged land fraud from 15 years ago were also currently under investigation. Bodkhe answered, “I do not know, how can a senior officer know everything?” Uke’s friends, however, claim that he is being targeted due to his work as a lawyer-activist. His brother, Pradip, has told the media the alleged property-fraud case has been used as a pretext to arrest Uke for his involvement in cases concerning the death of the judge Loya.
For a few years now, Uke has been working to gather information and documents pertaining to the Loya’s death. His association with Loya became public in recent months, after The Caravan published a series of reports regarding the suspicious circumstances surrounding the judge’s death in Nagpur in 2014, purportedly of a heart attack. At the time of his death, Loya was hearing a case pertaining to the alleged fake encounter of Sohrabuddin Sheikh. The prime accused in the case was the BJP president, Amit Shah. On 31 January, Uke appeared among the speakers during a press conference led by the senior advocate Kapil Sibal, on behalf of the Congress party. Sibal recounted Uke’s account of his interactions with Loya to the press: he said that in October 2014, nearly two months before his death, Loya had confided in Uke that he was facing immense pressure while hearing the Sohrabuddin case.