On the morning of 1 December 2014, the family of 48-year-old judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, who was presiding over the Central Bureau of Investigation special court in Mumbai, was informed that he had died in Nagpur, where he had travelled for a colleague’s daughter’s wedding. Loya had been hearing one of the most high-profile cases in the country, involving the allegedly staged encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in 2005. The prime accused in the case was Amit Shah—Gujarat’s minister of state for home at the time of Sohrabuddin’s killing, and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s national president at the time of Loya’s death. The media reported that the judge had died of a heart attack.
Loya’s family did not speak to the media after his death. But in November 2016, Loya’s niece, Nupur Balaprasad Biyani, approached me while I was visiting Pune to say she had concerns about the circumstances surrounding her uncle’s death. Following this, over several meetings between November 2016 and November 2017, I spoke to her mother, Anuradha Biyani, who is Loya’s sister and a medical doctor in government service; another of Loya’s sisters, Sarita Mandhane; and Loya’s father, Harkishan. I also tracked down and spoke to government servants in Nagpur who witnessed the procedures followed with regard to the judge’s body after his death, including the post-mortem.
From these accounts, deeply disturbing questions emerged about Loya’s death: questions about inconsistencies in the reported account of the death; about the procedures followed after his death; and about the condition of the judge’s body when it was handed over to the family. Though the family asked for an inquiry commission to probe Loya’s death, none was ever set up.
At 11 pm on 30 November 2014, from Nagpur, Loya phoned his wife, Sharmila, using his mobile phone. Over around 40 minutes, he described to her his busy schedule through the day. Loya was in Nagpur to attend the wedding of the daughter of a fellow judge, Sapna Joshi. Initially he had not intended to go, but two of his fellow judges had insisted that he accompany them. Loya told his wife that he had attended the wedding, and later attended a reception. He also enquired about his son, Anuj. He said that he was staying at Ravi Bhavan, a government guest house for VIPs in Nagpur’s Civil Lines locality, along with the judges he had accompanied to Nagpur.