SC says no independent probe into Loya death

PTI file photo

The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a plea for an independent probe into the death of Mumbai judge B H Loya on December 1, 2014.

The top court decried a veiled attempt made through PILs to launch a frontal attack on the independence of the judiciary and to dilute the credibility of judicial institutions.

It said political rivalries have to be resolved in the great hall of democracy, otherwise judicial process will be reduced to a charade.

A three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Dipak Misra relied upon documentary evidence, including medical and post-mortem reports as well as statements made by the judicial officers, who were with judge Loya in Nagpur till his last breath, to conclude that the death was due to natural causes. “They (judges) have a ring of truth. They had nothing to conceal nor an axe to grind,” the court said.

It also approved the four judges’ version recorded in discreet inquiry on the direction of chief justice of Bombay High Court after news magazine ‘Caravan’ published articles in November, 2017 raising suspicion on the death of the judge, then hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter involving BJP president Amit Shah, who was subsequently discharged from the case.

The 114-page judgement, authored by Justice D Y Chandrachud on behalf of the bench, also comprising Justice A M Khanwilkar, stated that the conduct of petitioners lacked bona fide and displayed a misuse of judicial process. It noted with serious concern that motivated petitions are filed to consume time and attention, resulting into travesty of justice.

The court recorded its anguish that the “wanton” attacks on credibility and independence of judges from not only district judiciary and the Bombay High Court were made by senior advocates Dushyant Dave, Indira Jaising, Prashant Bhushan and associate of V Giri, but even judges from the bench, hearing the matter, were not spared. Bhushan sought recusal of Justices Chandrachud and Khanwilkar.

“The judiciary must continue to perform its duty even if it is not to be palatable to some,” the court said.

The apex court heard counsel from Congress sympathiser Tehseen Poonawalla, Maharashtra journalist B S Lone and Bombay Lawyers Association, among others, for nine dates beginning February 2 and ending on March 16. The petitions assumed importance after four senior-most Supreme Court judges addressed an unprecedented press conference on January 12, questioning assigning of sensitive cases, including a plea on Loya’s death, to select benches.

After examining in great detail each of charges made in the petitions, the court said the petitioners maintained they have no personal agenda.

But, “the conduct of the petitioners and the intervenors scandalises the process of the court and prima facie constitutes criminal contempt. However, on a dispassionate view of the matter, we have chosen not to initiate proceedings,” the bench said. The judgement kicked off row with the Congress sticking its demand for independent probe and the CPM seeking reference of the matter to a larger bench. Advocate Bhushan said it is black day for the institution of judiciary. As the Supreme Court’s website went down after the pronouncement of verdict in the morning, the availablity of judgement’s copy to Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in the afternoon was questioned by Poonawalla.

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