The Supreme Court judgment on petitions demanding an inquiry into the judge BH Loya’s death begins by stating that the “petitioners seek an inquiry into the circumstances of the death” of the judge. It concludes: “The documentary material on the record indicates that the death of Judge Loya was due to natural causes.” Over its span, the judgment ends up doing exactly as the petitioners sought—inquiring into the circumstances surrounding Loya’s death—but without enabling the scope of investigation that an independent inquiry would have allowed.
Two medical documents were essential to determining whether the circumstances surrounding Loya’s death were suspicious—an ECG purportedly conducted on Loya at Dande Hospital shortly before his death, and the post-mortem report prepared at the Government Medical College in Nagpur. Though there are a range of issues in the judgment that need to be examined, even a scrutiny limited to the manner in which it deals with these documents is enough to indicate that an inquiry broader in scope than the court allowed itself would have resulted in a different conclusion.
The judgment relies heavily on the testimonies that four judges who said they were with Loya on the night he died—Shrikant Kulkarni and SM Modak, who said they travelled to Nagpur from Mumbai with Loya, and VC Barde and Roopesh Rathi, who were serving in Nagpur at the time—submitted to Maharashtra’s State Intelligence Department, or SID, as part of its “discreet inquiry” into Loya’s death. The state then presented these before the court. But it is important to note that the judges’ testimonies only form an account of the hours preceding and immediately after Loya’s death—they can only confirm whether an ECG test was conducted or a post-mortem was ordered. Whether an ECG or a post-mortem indicated that Loya suffered a heart attack, and whether these medical documents were in any way manipulated, cannot lie within the judges’ knowledge.
Details brought to light by The Caravan—most of which the court did not consider, and some that it set aside on grounds that do not stand scrutiny—cast strong doubts on the veracity of the ECG record and the post-mortem report. Moreover, when considered in conjunction with the fact that leading forensic experts differ over the conclusions stated in the post-mortem report and that The Caravan uncovered reasonable grounds to suspect that the report omitted vital information, there is little left to justify the court’s certainty that Loya died of natural causes. This reading does not even call into question the reliability of the judges’ testimonies or cast doubt on their integrity, but is, in fact, based on taking their accounts at face value.