Shifting of BH Loya death case to a junior judge, immediate trigger for judges revolt

The main issue that the judges pointed out for their act was that the CJI was allocating cases selectively to the benches bypassing senior judges, which is not the precedence in the apex court.

It was The Caravan Magazine that exposed on November 2017, shocking details regarding the mysterious death of BH Loya, the judge presiding over one of the most high-profile cases in the country, Sohrabuddin trial in the CBI special court in Mumbai.

Jan 13: For the first time in the history of India, four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court (SC)- Justice J Chelameswar, Justices Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph- reached out to the people of the country through media raising concerns about the arbitrary way in which the Chief Justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra is allocating cases selectively to the benches “of their preference”.

Though who are ‘they’ -a line which also appears in the letter written to CJI by judges two months back – is something the four eminent jurists needs to clarify,  the immediate trigger for the revolt is apparently assigning a petition in the case regarding Mumbai Judge BH Loya death to a bench of  a junior judge.

It was The Caravan Magazine that exposed on November 2017, shocking details regarding the mysterious death of BH Loya, the judge presiding over one of the most high-profile cases in the country, Sohrabuddin trial in the CBI special court in Mumbai. Most of the mainstream media that are now celebrating the Judges’ revolt were maintaining a conspicuous silence regarding Caravan’s expose.

Based on the report, two petitions asking for an investigation into the judge’s death were assigned to a bench that the four judges reportedly disapproved of.

Vinod K Jose, executive editor of The Caravan told India Live Today that when on Thursday he got the information that two PILs was suddenly mentioned in front of the CJI and he immediately referred it for the next day, he assigned his reporter in the apex court, as it was a case Caravan was following keenly. The coming up of the PILs in the Supreme Court itself were surprising since there were two separate PILs on Judge Loya in the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court and the Bombay High Court itself, and in the latter, the Court had given January 23rd to hear the matter.

“Around 1045 am I got to know that the four senior most judges in the Supreme Court had gone to the CJI raising issues with the allocation of Judge Loya’s case to a junior judge, bypassing the conventions of the court. In politically sensitive cases, we have been seeing a pattern recently of getting allocated to not the senior judges. What followed after it was the press conference, which is history,” he said.

In the context it should be noted that in the press conference Chelameswar, said they had met Chief Justice Dipak Misra “this morning” and “raised issues affecting the institution“. Also, Justice Gogoi, on being asked if the issue was about CBI Judge BH Loya’s alleged mysterious death case, affirmatively said: “Yes.”

Regarding the turn of events, Jose feels that more or less the mainstream media and the main opposition parties who were silent on the The Caravan expose were now  forced to take up the issue. “I was really surprised by the silence of the so called mainstream newspapers and television, many of the public intellectuals and also the main opposition parties. If the mysterious death of a judge in a democracy did not touch their conscience to speak up, I didn’t know what would. Justice Loya was hearing one of the most high-profile cases in the country, in which the prime accused 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,” he added.

Illustration by Dr. Madhu Omalloor

He said that it was social media that spread the Caravan report and videos wide and far. “The reports got translated into almost all Indian languages, and got to people over phone. People read the story, and watched Loya’s family members saying how the judge was offered Rs. 100 crore bribe for a favourable judgment by the Bombay High Court Chief Justice Mohit Shah. This was a very serious allegation but barring a few, most opinion leaders remained quite. Only now after the four judges brought up the issue in public the main opposition Congress and others demanded a detailed probe,” Jose added.

The Sohrabuddin case was the only one that Loya was hearing at the time of his death, and was one of the most carefully watched cases then underway in the country.

In the letter two months back the four judges had pointed out, “There have been instances where case having far-reaching consequences for the nation and the institution had been assigned by the Chief Justice of this Court selectively to the benches “of their preference” without any rationale basis for such assignment. This must be guarded against at all costs.”

Dushyant Dave, a Senior Advocate and Former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association on the day of Judges revolt had pointed out in his opinion piece in The Indian Express –“An opaque justice” -that several instances reflect that the Constitution Benches are constituted by including certain judges and excluding certain others.  “Yet, a little insight into the functioning of the Supreme Court today will reveal that the Chief Justice has been exercising his powers in an opaque manner…the fact remains that senior judges and even judges known for their proficiency in certain branches of law are excluded from such benches,” he had said.

A section of the media chose to attack the judges for holding the press conference and how they have weakened the Indian judiciary thereby the democracy itself. Jose, however, had a different opinion on this.

 “If a part of human body is cancerous what will one do? Should that person pretend everything is all right and die a slow death or should the person opt treatment? I think the four judges have done only a courageous and patriotic thing in upholding the ethos of judiciary and democracy, when working inside the system, they realised there was a cancer in the variety of a certain moral and intellectual corruption in the judiciary and that can take the life of the democracy–they chose to go to the ultimate court in a democracy, the public. Not just that morning when Judge Loya case came up–that could be the last reason–the four judges, many times over in the past had brought up their concern that things were not in order in the Supreme Court and the CJI should take remedial measures, both in person and in written communication. In closed doors you didn’t get heard, now they are heard in public,” he said.