Loya death will be examined objectively, says CJI bench

 A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

The Supreme Court on Monday said it would dispassionately examine the circumstances surrounding the death of CBI judge B.H. Loya and reach its own objective conclusion. The court called the controversy over the death a “serious issue” and urged for a sense of objectivity.

Addressing fears that the media might be gagged, Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the Supreme Court would “never gag the press.”

A Bench of Chief Justice Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud transferred two PIL petitions on Loya’s death, pending before the Bombay High Court, to itself.

The Bench restrained other High Courts from entertaining any petition in connection with Loya’s death.

It allowed both the Maharashtra government and the petitioners — Maharashtra-based journalist B.R. Lone and activist Tehseen Poonawala — to place on record additional documents.

Maharashtra produced documents containing the statements of four district judges, two who went on to be High Court judges. They had stated that Loya died of cardiac arrest and they had taken him to hospital. The petitioners, in turn, submitted that they had accessed certain documents under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The Bench allowed the Bombay Lawyers’ Association to file an intervention application. The Bombay Lawyers’ Association was represented by senior advocate Dushyant Dave.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising was also allowed to file an intervention application on behalf of certain social activists.

“Let us look at the matter with a sense of objectivity. Of course, it is a serious issue. We have the records before us. We will also look at records which you say were obtained through RTI, so that we have a consistent statement of what exactly happened. We cannot analyse merely on the basis of media reports,” Justice Chandrachud observed.

The Bench took exception to comments made by Mr. Dave about senior advocates Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Maharashtra government.

Mr. Dave said Mr. Salve had earlier appeared for BJP president Amit Shah, who was discharged as an accused in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. This was the very case Loya was hearing when he died in December 2014.

“We are looking into the death of a judge. Please do not pass any comments about persons appearing in the matter. To appear for or not, we all do according to our conscience,” Justice Chandrachud said.

The to-and-fro between lawyers on both sides heightened when Mr. Salve requested the court that the records given to lawyers in the case should not be shared outside.

Immediately, Ms. Jaising termed it as an attempt to gag the media. Mr. Dave also joined in to say that “entire institution is trying to protect one man.”

Mr. Salve explained that two serving judges have made statements, which are part of the records of the case. Discussing these statements in public would “embarrass” them. “How can anyone discuss an issue which is sub judice?” Justice Khanwilkar asked. “You cannot stop the nation from discussing,” Mr. Dave replied. Ms. Jaising said the judges had made their statements as witnesses and there was no bar in a discussion of their statements.

Raised tempers

At one point, when Mr. Dave raised his voice, Justice Khanwilkar asked him why he was “provoked.” But Mr. Dave continued to say that “all this is to protect one man and one man only... Amit Shah.”

“What is this ‘Amit Shah, Amit Shah’? What is this jumping three steps and passing comments about people behind their back just because he is a prominent politician... This is the highest court and you cannot cast aspersions on people who are not represented here,” Mr. Salve shot back at Mr. Dave.

“Let us not cast aspersions on people... We will dispassionately go through the documents and with a spirit of co-operation. Only then can we get to the root of the matter,” Justice Chandrachud observed.

The hearing also saw a visibly angry Chief Justice Misra chastise Ms. Jaising for “drawing an inference” that the court is set to pass an order to gag the media.

“I am very hurt... Madam, we did not utter a single word, yet you draw your conclusions. I have said the other day. We will never gag the press. You should say sorry,” Chief Justice Misra said, addressing Ms. Jaising, who apologised.

The case was posted for hearing on February 2.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2022 10:04:34 am |