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Tehseen Poonawalla v. Union of India: Supreme Court dismisses the petition seeking SIT probe in Judge Loya’s death

  • Supreme Court dismisses the petition seeking SIT probe in Judge Loya’s death

  • [Tehseen Poonawalla v. Union of India,  2018 SCC OnLine SC 400, decided on 19.04.2018]

The 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, CJ and AM Khanwilkar, and Dr. DY Chandrachud, JJ dismissed the petitions seeking the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probe into Special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Judge B.H. Loya’s death case. While doing so, the Court said:

“there is absolutely no merit in the writ petitions. There is no reason for the court to doubt the clear and consistent statements of the four judicial officers. The documentary material on the record indicates that the death of Judge Loya was due to natural causes. There is no ground for the court to hold that there was a reasonable suspicion about the cause or circumstances of death which would merit a further inquiry.”

The sequence of events leading to the present case are:

  • Judge Loya was presiding over the CBI Special Court in Mumbai in the trial arising out of the encounter killings of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in which Amit Shah, the national President of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was one of the accused.
  • On 29 November 2014 Judge Loya traveled to Nagpur with two other judicial officers, Shrikant and SM Modak to attend the wedding in the family of another judicial officer, Swapna Joshi who was then a Member Secretary of the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority.
  • In the early hours of 1 December 2014, Judge Loya complained of chest pain and was taken to a nearby hospital. He was then referred to Meditrina Hospital, a cardiac care facility, where he was declared “brought dead”.
  • On 11 December 2017, Tehseen Poonawalla filed a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution before the Supreme Court seeking SIT probe into Judge Loya’s death.
  • Jayshri Laxmanrao Patil and another by Bandhuraj Sambhaji Lone also filed petitions on the same issue.
  • On 20 and 21 November 2017, articles on his death were published in the issues of Caravan magazine. The first article was titled “A family breaks its silence: shocking details emerge in death of judge presiding over Sohrabuddin trial”.

Cause of Death:

The summary of the post-mortem report records that Judge Loya died due to a heart attack. No complaint has been lodged by his relatives at the local police station or at PS Sadar of any suspicion in regard to the cause of death and the medical officer has recorded the cause of death as a heart attack in the PM report and there was no evidence of assault.

Statements of the 4 judges:

Petitioner’s submission: the procedure of obtaining the permission of the Chief Justice was completed within one day and the statements were submitted by the four judges on the next day. Two of the judges (Judge Shrikant Kulkarni and Judge Barde) were based in Mumbai while the other two (Judge Modak and Judge Rathi) were based at Pune and Baramati.

Court:

  • A discreet inquiry had been ordered by the state government in view of the articles which were published in Caravan regarding the death of a judicial officer. Three of the statements specifically refer to the letter to the Commissioner while the fourth refers to the request which has been made by the Commissioner and the permission which has been granted by the High Court. There was no reason for the four judicial officers to procrastinate or delay the submission of their statements. There is no basis whatsoever to make any imputation against the four officers of the state judiciary.
  • Each of the judges has spoken in detail of the facts and events which were within their personal knowledge. The statements contain matters of detail which would be known to those who were present with Judge Loya. They have a ring of truth.

Petitioner’s Submission: if the four judges had accompanied Judge Loya to the hospital, then as colleagues they would not have indicated his name to be Brijmohan instead of Brijgopal.

Court: This is but another attempt to cast doubt on the version of the four judicial officers without a substantive basis or foundation. Judge Loya was taken to hospital in an emergency. The normal course of human events would indicate that his four colleagues would be more concerned about getting Judge Loya attended than filling up an admission form. A mistake did occur in recording his name as Brijmohan instead of Brijgopal. In our view, this cannot be a ground to discredit the detailed factual narration made by the four judicial officers who were with him.

Stating that the conduct of the petitioners and the intervenors is lacking in bona fides and reveals a misuse of judicial process, the Court said:

“An aura of good faith has been sought to be created by submitting that the true purpose of seeking an inquiry into the circumstances relating to the death of Judge Loya is to protect the district judiciary. But as the submissions have evolved, it has become clear that the petition is a veiled attempt to launch a frontal attack on the independence of the judiciary and to dilute the credibility of judicial institutions. Judicial review is a potent weapon to preserve the rule of law. However, here we have been confronted with a spate of scurrilous allegations. Absent any title of proof that they are conspirators in a murder the court must stand by the statements of the judicial officers. The judges of the district judiciary are vulnerable to wanton attacks on their independence. This court would be failing in its duty if it were not to stand by them.”

[Tehseen Poonawalla v. Union of India,  2018 SCC OnLine SC 400, decided on 19.04.201]

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