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At a press conference that most media organisations underplayed, with most crucial details omitted, the Congress party took up the Judge BH Loya’s death case on Wednesday to demand a Supreme Court-monitored investigation by a special investigative team (SIT) into the matter, alleging there had been two more suspicious deaths in the case.

The party said that, failing this, it would launch a nation-wide campaign and take the issue down to villages.

The Congress said it was not just Judge BH Loya, who was hearing the discharge petition of BJP president Amit Shah, but also a retired district judge and a lawyer, both from Nagpur and who Loya had confided in, who died under suspicious circumstances. An attempt was also made on the life of the only surviving witness, lawyer Satish Uike, the Congress alleged.

This called for an independent and impartial probe, demanded Congress leaders Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid, Vivek Tankha and Randeep Surjewala at the press conference.

The Congress demanded that the Supreme Court (SC) order an independent investigation into the “mystery” around the death in 2014 of judge BH Loya, retired district judge Prakash Thombre and Nagpur-based lawyer Shrikant Khandalkar.

Congress leader Kapil Sibal said the SC or the Bombay High Court should constitute an independent special investigation team (SIT) to probe Loya’s death, and those of two others to whom judge Loya had reportedly turned for help.

Sibal said if the Bombay HC failed in its job to take cognisance of these deaths, the Congress would launch an agitation to take the issue to the villages, about how lives of judges and lawyers were at risk. Sibal said the SC-monitored SIT should not have any officers from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

Loya was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case when he purportedly died of cardiac arrest while in Nagpur to attend the wedding of a colleague’s daughter on November 30, 2014. Sibal said judge Loya’s sister had alleged her brother was under pressure to pass an order favourable to the accused and to discharge them, and that he was offered Rs 1 billion and a residential flat in Mumbai.

Sibal, party leaders and Satish Uke, a Nagpur-based lawyer and whistle-blower in the case, said Loya’s wasn’t the only mysterious death in the case.

Sibal said Loya had sought help from his friends in Mumbai but couldn’t get support. In October 2014, Loya approached Uke through Nagpur lawyer Shrikant Khandalkar and retired district judge Prakash Thombre. Sibal said Thombre and Khandalkar, and a fourth unknown person, facilitated a video call between Loya and Uke.

According to Sibal and Uke, in the video call, Loya named people, including senior judges and leading politicians, were pressurising him to pass a discharge order in the case. In November, 2014, Uke, Thombre and one of their friends travelled to Delhi to take the opinion of a senior lawyer but returned disappointed when the lawyer said the evidence was not sufficient.

Judge BH Loya dies: On November 30, 2014, Loya died in Nagpur. Sibal said that the judge’s security cover, which he was entitled to as a special CBI judge, was withdrawn on November 24. He said there was no record of Loya travelling to Nagpur and there are several other contradictions and infirmities, including in the autopsy report, that arouse suspicion.

Lawyer Shrikant Khandalkar dies: Sibal said Khandalkar also told Uke he was receiving threats. A year after judge Loya’s death, Khandalkar also died. Sibal said his body was found in the district court premises of Nagpur. He said Khandalkar allegedly fell from the eighth floor of the building on November 29, 2015. He had been missing for two days.

Retired Judge Prakash Thombre dies: According to Uke, retired judge Thombre had also received threats. Sibal said Thombre died suspiciously while travelling in a train from Nagpur to Bengaluru on May 16, 2016. “There is no FIR (First Information Report) till date in this incident,” Sibal said.

Sibal said Uke had also been threatened repeatedly. An attempt on his life was made on June 8, 2016, when an iron material of about 5,000 kg suddenly fell on the roof of the shed he used as his office, Sibal said. Uke escaped as he had stepped out of the office barely a minute before the incident.

“This is what the four judges were saying when talked about democracy being in peril,” Sibal said, in a reference to the press conference of SC judges Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Josesh, J Chelameswar and Madan B Lokur on January 12, and their letter to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.

Currently, the SC is hearing a public interest litigation seeking an independent probe into Judge Loya’s death. Former Navy chief Admiral (retired) L Ramdas has also filed a plea in the SC seeking an independent inquiry by a panel of retired apex court judges and former police officers into judge Loya’s death.

BJP chief Amit Shah was one of the accused in the Sheikh encounter case in which he was later discharged.

Here are the salient points, according to the Congress press release:

SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF JUDGE LOYA – NARRATIVE & SYNOPSIS

  1. Circumstances before death of Judge Loya in Nagpur on 30.11.2014

– Sohrabuddin Fake encounter case was transferred from Gujarat to CBI Court, Mumbai on directions of the Supreme Court in 2012. It was directed that same Judge would preside over the trial from start to finish.

– Judge Utpat was designated as Special Judge, CBI Court, Mumbai to preside over the trial of Sohrabuddin case.

– In July 2014, Judge Utpat was transferred abruptly without prior permission of Supreme Court.

– Judge Loya was working as a Registrar, Bombay High Court under the Chief Justice Sh. Mohit Shah. He was transferred as Special Judge, CBI, Mumbai for Sohrabuddin trial.

– Judge Loya was under tremendous pressure to hear the Sohrabuddin Fake encounter matter in haste and to pass an order in favor of an accused to discharge him from this matter. Judge Loya wanted to discharge his judicial function independently and did not want to compromise his honesty.

– He wanted to get away from this case to avoid such high pressure from many influential persons from political background and higher judiciary. During the hearing he also received a draft order for him to sign and to pass order of discharge favoring an accused before 30.12.2014. For this he was offered money of 100 crores to be collected from Nagpur alongwith a residential flat/property in Mumbai

– Judge Loya sought help from some of his known friends in Mumbai but couldn’t get any support from them.

– Thereafter around Second week of October 2014, he approached Adv. Satish Uke, a practicing Advocate of Nagpur city and a whistleblower through Adv. Shrikant Khandalkar another practicing Lawyer of Nagpur and who was friendly with Adv. Uke and another Lawyer and Retd District Judge Prakash Thombre who was also close to Adv Uke.

– Judge Loya wanted to divert attention from himself and sought intervention by Adv. Uke as Adv. Uke had filed matters against influential persons who were pressurizing Judge Loya to pass discharge order.

– Adv. Shrikant Khandalkar  & Adv. Satish Uke  were well known whistleblower of Nagpur City. Three of them i.e. Uke, Khandalkar and Thombre in presence of fourth unknown person facilitated a video call between Judge Loya and Satish Uke. During the video call conversation. Judge Loya , apart from Chief Justice Mohit Shah took names of Justice B.R. Gavai, Devendra Fadnavis and Subhanshu Joshi (Advocate in Nagpur) as the persons pressurizing him to pass the discharge order. He also spoke about a draft order sent to him by these persons to discharge an accused in Sohrabuddin fake encounter case. Judge Loya also told that he will be sending a draft copy of order to Retd Judge Thombre.

– Thereafter within 2-3 days Copy of draft order received by Retd. Judge Thombre and was in custody of Thombre.

– Between 4th November2014 to 09th November 2014 Adv. Satish Uke, Adv. Prakash Thombre and one of their friend came to Delhi to take opinion of a known Senior Lawyer in Delhi about this issue. Senior Lawyer concerned in his opinion did not consider the said material sufficient to approach the Court. So Adv Uke and Adv Prakash Thombre returned disappointed to Nagpur (their travelling records are available).

  1. Suspicious Death of Judge Loya in Nagpur on 30.11.2014

– The police security provided to Judge Loya was withdrawn in Mumbai from 24.11.2014 and he was not provided any security in Nagpur.

– There is no travel record of Judge Loya travelling to Nagpur in Train from Mumbai.

– There is no entry of Judge Loya or Judge Modak in Occupancy register of Ravi Bhawan of 30.11.2014.

– Post Mortem of Judge Loya was conducted on 1/12/14 Time: at 10.50-11.50 a.m. by Doctor Tumram without information and consent of immediate family members.

– There are several discrepanciesin the post mortem report which are self evident.

  1. Suspicious deaths of Advocate Khandalkar and Retd. Judge Thombre who helped Judge Loya

– Thereafter Adv Khandalkar told Adv Uke that he is receiving threats from his erstwhile Senior, Justice B.R. Gavai and Adv. Ketki Joshi of Nagpur. After death of  Judge Loya.

– Adv. Khandalkar’ s body was found in District Court premises of Nagpur allegedly fell from 8th storey on 29th November 2015 (28th November 2015 was closed for Court work on account of 4th Saturday), he was missing for two days.

– Retd. Judge Thombre was also receiving Life threats after death of Judge Loya as told to Adv. Uke from Subhanshu Joshi (husband of Ketki Joshi) and was also threatened that his pension will be stopped by Justice B.R.Gavai.

– Retd. Judge Thombre also died suspiciously while travelling in train from Nagpur to Bangalore on 16/5/2016 in Hyderabad. There is no FIR till date on this incident.

– Adv. Satish Uke was also threatened repeatedly, an attempt on his life was made on 08.06.2016, heavy weight iron material about 5000 kg’s suddenly fell on the office roof of Adv. Uke withing a minute of Adv Uke leaving his office for his house, which was just 50 steps away. This incident destroyed the office of Adv Uke completely. Adv Uke filed a Complaint in Police station Ajni, Nagpur, panchnama was done but till date no FIR or investigation in the said incident.

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