Loya case: Apex court suddenly finds PILs irksome
The conclusion of the case in the Supreme Court of India seeking a fair and impartial probe into the circumstances of the death of former Judge of Bombay High Court Justice B H Loya four years ago was foregone the day the four senior most judges of the apex court went public on January 10, 2018 raising issues relating to judicial propriety of the Chief Justice of India and also expressed apprehension about a fair trial of the public interest litigation (PIL) concerning Justice Loya’s death.
The decision of the four senior most judges of the Supreme Court to go public did have a limited sobering effect insofar as Justice Arun Mishra to whom the case was assigned by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Mishra virtually threw out the petitions back into the Chief Justice’s court who thereafter constituted a three judge bench comprising himself and two other judges Justices D Y Chandrachud and A M Khanwilkar, his preferred bench in many other controversial cases relating to this Government, to hear the petitions.
But reporters who covered the proceedings were almost certain that the apex court would do nothing except dismiss this petition out of hand, presuming as one of them said on the condition of anonymity, “Don’t you see, it would have put BJP president Amit Shah’s fate in jeopardy? Did you expect anything different?” It is also common knowledge now that while the Supreme Court site carrying the full judgment crashed soon after the Justice Chandrachud read out the judgment, leading to panic among Supreme Court reporters, before those covering the proceedings could get a copy of the judgment, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was addressing a press conference forcefully defending the judgment and casting aspersions at those raising questions at the death of Justice B H Loya. It was a voluminous judgment and reading through the entire plethora of pages would have taken a while. But within no time the Law minister was addressing the media leading to suspicion that the minister may have got the copy of the judgment perhaps even before it was read out in the open court. This apprehension further reinforced when upon their making a noise about this, the concerned Information Officer (IO) in the Government Media Centre and not in the Supreme Court, called up each one of them and handed over the voluminous hard copy of the judgment.
It is still in the realm of speculation whether this judgment was available to Mr Prasad well in advance to seek his approval. But Mr Prasad’s diatribe against his political rivals implicitly admitted that had the bench ordered an independent probe into Justice Loya’s death, it would have jeopardized the political and personal future of Amit Shah, an accused in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh “encounter” case, that Justice Loya was dealing with, when he died.
Noted Supreme Court senior counsel Indira Jaising pointed out that “On February 19 (2018, (when this bench admitted the concerned petitions for hearing), the CJI said: ‘We will not go into the bona fides of petitioners.’ But the judgment appeared obsessed with the bona fides of the petitioners. So what happened in between? He went back on his word.” Yes the judgment did not confine to that alone, but issued veiled threats naming some of them and saying they deserved penal action for contempt of court, in the process castigating the whole trend of PILs.
Strangely when BJP MP Subramanian Swamy rushes every now and then to the apex court seeking early settlement of the Babri Masjid Ram Mandir dispute to remove all obstacles from starting the construction of the mandir on the disputed site, or seeking to hang UPA government on spectrum allocation, the court had no laconic comments to offer though eventually it did dismiss his petition. In fact not once the apex court questioned the bona fides of Sway who is a compulsive frivolous litigant regarding issues hardly affecting him personally in any way.
But death of a fellow senior judge under very questionable circumstances was like any other routine stuff to the apex court and the bench actually sought not to be sidetracked from weighty work they were involved in by such, in their opinion, frivolous matters.
That there were clear recorded discrepancies in the Ravi Bhawan register where Justice Loya was ostensibly putting up the night of November 30, 2014, this court did not consider important enough. Nor the reports of how Doctor Vyawhare, closely related to a BJP minister in Maharashtra unexpectedly descended upon the team conducting post mortem and manipulated the report. It did not matter to them that Justice Loya was a healthy active and young person with no history of any illness and therefore him suffering a heart attack was most unusual, observed his doctor sister and ageing parents alive and active to this day.
The family and friends of Justice Loya had said on record that Justice Loya had stated before his death that he was under pressure in this case and offered a Rs 100 crore plus a big flat in any posh locality of Mumbai. It did not matter to this court that two of Justice Loya’s close friends who questioned the circumstances of his death themselves died in mysterious circumstances and the third was just lucky to escape the attack on him.
The first judge who was trying the Amit Shah case and was found “difficult” and transferred overnight in spite of clear instructions of this same apex court that the trial be conducted and concluded by the same judge. The second Justice Loya died, if nothing else, a premature death and the third acquitted Amit Shah within minutes on the first hearing setting aside all canons of judicial propriety. All this was of no consequences to the learned judges because they had made up their mind beforehand that the BJP president was being unfairly targeted. Naturally then they found these PILs irksome. It has to be seen whether this was one off remark of our learned judges or signifies a growing trend of the Supreme Court of India.