The two judges hearing the case about judge BH Loya’s death, one of the key triggers for an unprecedented crisis in India’s judiciary, said in an order that the case be “put up before the appropriate bench”, indicating that the case could be reassigned.
It means that the Chief Justice of India (CJI), Dipak Misra, will now have to take the call of whether to transfer the case to a different set of judges.
In a dramatic twist amidst the ongoing rift in the Supreme Court, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra on Tuesday ordered that the PIL seeking an independent probe into the death of special CBI judge BH Loya be put up before an “appropriate bench”.
“Let the documents be placed on record within seven days and if it is considered appropriate, copies be furnished to the petitioners. Put up before the appropriate bench,” the bench of Justices Mishra and Mohan M Shantanagoudar said, triggering speculation that they were preparing to recuse themselves from the case.
The Maharashtra government had on Tuesday placed documents pertaining to Loya’s death before the court in a sealed cover stating that it contained certain confidential material which should not be shared with the public.
In an unprecedented move on Friday, the four senior-most judges of the apex court after the Chief Justice — Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurien Joseph — held a press conference where they warned that “democracy will not survive if judiciary is not preserved”. They said their decision to go public against the CJI was motivated in part because cases of “far reaching consequences” were being assigned inappropriately among junior judges.
None of the four judges was assigned to hear the judge Loya case, which is seen as politically sensitive. Instead, the case was assigned to two judges including Justice Arun Mishra, the 10th senior-most judge of the SC.
On Monday, Justice Mishra reportedly broke down at a meeting with other judges and said he was “unfairly” targeted and questions were raised about his “competence”.
CJI Dipak Misra continued efforts to reach out to the four judges who had criticised him in public and discussed “all issues” at a meeting on Tuesday.
At the time of his death, on December 1, 2014, BH Loya (48), was hearing the case of the alleged fake encounter of inter-state “gangster” Sohrabuddin Sheikh in which BJP president Amit Shah was an accused along with several others. Weeks later, Amit Shah was discharged from the case with a new judge ruling that there was no evidence to merit his trial.
Two months ago, judge Loya’s relatives said his death was unnatural. His sister Anuradha Biyani also claimed that he was offered a huge bribe to rule in favour of the BJP chief Amit Shah.
With the demand for an investigation into Loya’s alleged cardiac arrest while attending a wedding mounting, a Maharashtra journalist and activist-petitioner Tehseen Poonawalla asked the SC to order an independent inquiry.
The case was assigned on Friday by the Chief Justice.
Judge Loya’s son Anuj Loya on Sunday said that he did not have any suspicions about the death. And the Nagpur police on Tuesday told the apex court that the judge had died of cardiac arrest and that “no probe was necessary”.