Book Review: ‘Who Killed Justice Loya’ Delves into Many Unanswered Questions

Reviewed by Mani Shankar Iyer

NB: True to the ethics of the journalist profession, Nilanjan Takle has performed a public service by following the trail of questions and shadows in which this death of an upright judge is veiled. It is a matter of comfort that such journalists are still doing their work, despite all the travails faced by them in dark times. Thank you Nilanjan. DS

Was Judge Loya, in fact, killed on the intervening night of November 30 and December 1, 2014? Or was he just the victim of a heart attack (“coronary artery insufficiency”, as recorded in the post-mortem report)? The book was lying unread on my bookshelves for the past several weeks. I then idly took up the book – and could not drop it till I had been through all its 315 pages.

It is the astonishing story of an investigative reporter with the Mumbai bureau of The Week magazine being dragooned by a friend into meeting in the lobby of a Pune hotel with the niece of the dead man some 18 months after Judge Loya had expired. This sets Niranjan Takle on a quest after the story that leads to two car chases and three major encounters with goondas who have been put on his track and from which the reporter escapes only because of his boxing prowess.

His phone is tapped and he spots it by the excessive drainage of the charging. The twists and turns are made more intriguing by unexpected coincidences that move the investigation along. A thriller in the best traditions of 007. The book climaxes with the Supreme Court refusing to go beyond the finding in the lower courts that Judge Loya died a natural death.

But before the Supreme Court reaches that conclusion, enough questions are raised to keep the reader hooked. These questions are summarised in Chapter 14 and divided into five sections located at the five main venues of the mystery:

  1. Ravi Bhawan, the state government’s VIP Guest House in Nagpur where Judge Loya allegedly took ill after attending a wedding reception.
  2. Dande hospital nearby, where his ECG was taken (or perhaps not taken) when he was brought there in the wee hours by rickshaw.
  3. Meditrina Hospital, where the patient’s “death on arrival” was recorded.
  4. General Medical College (GMC) Hospital, where the post-mortem and related reports were prepared.
  5. Ghategaon, the ancestral village of Judge Loya, where the body was transferred from Nagpur via Latur instead of Mumbai, where his wife lived. At Ghategaon, the body was hastily cremated before his wife and daughter could get to the spot from Mumbai. This effectively foreclosed the possibility of a second post-mortem.

In the Ravi Bhawan register, Judge Loya’s name is missing, and the relevant pages appear to have been tampered with. Why? Was a room allotted to Judge Loya? If not, would so senior a judge as Loya agree to share a room with others? When he was taken ill, why was no attempt made to send for an ambulance or an official Ravi Bhawan vehicle? How in the dead of night was a rickshaw found to transfer the judge to a hospital? Why were none of the Ravi Bhawan staff aware that a VIP had suffered heartburn at 4 am and carried to hospital?

Why chose the small private Dande orthopaedic hospital when there were several other excellent, better-known hospitals in the vicinity? Was it because the owner was an RSS man? Was an ECG test done – or not? One witness says they tried to do the ECG but “the nodes of the machine” were “broken”. In that case, was the ECG report subsequently published with all its incongruities by Indian Express a fabricated document? In any case, the doctors at the next hospital said no ECG report had been sent with the patient despite being a dying man.

Also read: Death of a Judge: What We Know, What We Don’t Know

The patient’s condition at Meditrina hospital was not recorded as “dead on arrival” but as “death on arrival”. ECG was taken and showed “agonal rhythm”, not a flat line. A death summary was prepared and as the cause of death was indicated as “undetermined”, the police were alerted, and a post-mortem was recommended.

The post-mortem was conducted at the Nagpur General Medical College Hospital. Permission to undertake the autopsy was obtained from the dead judge’s “paternal cousin” – but he had no “paternal cousin”. The procedure included “neurosurgery”, not required for death by a heart attack.

So, was there any serious injury requiring stitching up? Not if there was just a heart attack. But in the case of Judge Loya, family witnesses and the doctor who prepared the post-mortem report say, according to the author,  that the shirt was soaked in blood, there was blood on the neck, his spectacles were stuck below the neck, he had head trauma and a twisted jaw. Does this indicate injury to the cranium as the root cause of death?

The Forensic Recommendation Report is clear that it does not, but Dr. R.K. Sharma of AIIMS is quoted as saying that as no calcification was observed in Loya’s blood vessels, “there is no heart attack”. Dr. Sharma further observes that the outermost layer surrounding the brain is “congested”. This indicates “some kind of an assault on the brain. A physical assault.”

Also, as every single organ is “congested…there is a possibility of poisoning” that requires investigation. All this was published by Caravan magazine, but Dr. Sharma then said he was misquoted.

There was then a four-hour delay in transferring the viscera to the pathology lab. The histopathology report reconfirmed that there had not been a heart attack because “sections from multiple myocardial tissue pieces show normal histology”. At the same time, sections from the cerebrum “show oedema and congestion”. This build-up of fluid in the brain is a “natural response to injury”. Moreover, “sections from the kidney show features of Acute Tubular Neurosis”, which indicates poisoning or some other harmful substance, which caused “a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the kidney tissues”.

So, was Judge Loya assaulted on the head and then poisoned to death? Or, despite his being a non-smoker, non-drinker and regular in physical exercise with a passion for table tennis, killed by a heart attack at the young age of 48?

And why instead of being sent to Mumbai where the family lived, was the body despatched in an unaccompanied ambulance to Latur, and thence to Loya’s ancestral village of Ghategaon? There, without waiting for the arrival of the judge’s family from Mumbai, the body was cremated. An RSS worker, not the hospital staff or police, delivered the bloodstained clothes to the family and Loya’s mobile telephone – but with messages deleted.

There are other stories of the terrified extended family of the dead judge, the author’s own family’s worries and warnings given openly and clandestinely to the author to cease and desist, as also his difficulties in getting his story published by the magazine he worked for. He eventually found a slot to publish it in Caravan, but not a job with the magazine as he had hoped. For his pains, he has been unemployed for the last four years and more. The tale has all the elements of a page-turning fictional thriller, but it is sobering to realise that we are dealing here with facts of a very recent past.

Read on…. But before you do, please note that Judge Loya was adjudicating the case against Amit Shah, then national president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the Shorabuddin-Kausarbi-Prajapati case, in which there were scores of witnesses and thousands of documents still to be examined. But following Judge Loya’s death, the judge who replaced him wound up the hearings in three days, reserved judgment, then pronounced a judgment at the end of the month exonerating the BJP president of all charges.

Now draw your own conclusions, bearing in mind that the Supreme Court has already declared itself satisfied that no foul play was involved.

Apoorva Mandhani: Judge Loya’s Confidants Died Mysterious Deaths

Arun Shourie On Why The SC Must Enquire Into Loya’s Death, And Erosion of Institutions

Sulphur in the air: 1984 is not forgotten

Investigate Death Of Judge Who Was Hearing Sohrabuddin Sheikh Case: Justice AP Shah

सीबीआई जज की मौत को लेकर उठे सवाल

Re-investigate Judge Loya’s death: Sharad Pawar // सीबीआई जज की मौत को लेकर उठे सवाल

अपूर्वानंद – भागवत और वंजारा साथ-साथ: हम कौन थे, क्या हो गए हैं और क्या होंगे अभी?

बॉम्बे हाईकोर्ट के पूर्व जज ने Amit Shah की पूरी कुंडली खोल कर रख दी  Former Judge Exposes Shah

Prem Shankar Jha: The Shadow of Haren Pandya’s Case Lies Long Over Justice Arun Mishra

Nikhila Henry – Ex CJI Gogoi’s RS Nomination Calls All His Judgments Into Question, Says Legal Expert

Ramachandra Guha: Supreme Court must reflect on its calling as defined by the Constitution – and the direction it is taking

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

Samjhauta Express blast case verdict: ‘Who will answer for death of my five children?’