NEW DELHI: The latest development -- since The Caravan’s report on the death of judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya snowballed into a constitutional crisis -- is a statement from a leading forensic expert dismissing the official claim that the judge died of a heart attack.

The Caravan asked RK Sharma -- the former head of the Forensic Medicine and Toxicology Department at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, and the president of the Indian Association of Medico-Legal Experts for 22 years -- to examine medical documents pertaining to the death of judge Loya. Sharma concluded that the documents show signs of possible trauma to the brain, and even possible poisoning.

The Caravan report notes: “Sharma spoke to The Caravan after studying Loya’s post-mortem report and related histopathology report, a report that accompanied samples of Loya’s viscera that were sent for chemical analysis, and the results of the chemical analysis. Some of these documents have been procured through Right to Information applications, and others have been submitted to the Supreme Court by the government of Maharashtra in support of a report by Maharashtra’s State Intelligence Department that concludes there is no cause for suspicion regarding Loya’s death.

Sharma’s expert opinion contradicts this conclusion. “There is no evidence of myocardial infarction in the histopathology report,” Sharma said. “The findings in this report have no suggestion of a heart-attack. They show changes, but not a heart attack.” Sharma observed, “The post-mortem report also says that calcification is observed in the vessels. Where there is calcification, there is no heart attack. Once the vessels have calcified they will never block the flow of blood. Loya is reported to have complained of feeling unwell at about 4 am on the night of his death, and was declared dead at 6.15 am. “So that means two hours,” Sharma said. “If one is alive for more than 30 minutes after the symptoms [of a heart attack] show, the condition of the heart will have clear changes. No clear changes can be seen here.””

The official account of the death of the judge is that while attending a wedding in Nagpur in December 2014, Loya suffered a heart attack and died. At the time, Loya was presiding over the Central Bureau of Investigation special court in Mumbai, and had been hearing one of the most high profile cases in the country -- the alleged staged encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in 2005, wherein the prime accused was Amit Shah. At the time, the judge’s death received limited media attention, and although a few protests demanding an inquiry into the death were stages in various parts of the country, little came of them.

In November 2017, The Caravan broke a story based on the accounts of the judge’s family members, which raised disturbing questions about the judge’s death, including inconsistency in the official and reported account of death. The report was based mainly on statements by Loya’s sister, Anuradha Biyani, and raised questions about the involvement of the RSS’ Ishwar Baheti. Biyani also noted blood stains on the judge’s neck and shirt, which, she said, are not consistent with the official account of the judge having suffered a cardiac arrest.

The story led to an uproar, and was countered in part by follow up reports by various media outlets, including NDTV and the Indian Express. Amit Shah, when asked of the Loya case, recommended the Indian Express’ coverage for a “more neutral” viewpoint.

The Caravan, however, stuck by the story. In a follow up piece, it noted that “Two sitting judges of the Bombay High Court have chosen to speak to select media outlets—and, in doing so, made an exceptional departure from the established code of judicial conduct—in order to summarily dismiss any possibility of foul play, even as a police investigation into Loya’s death is ongoing. These judges, by their own telling, did not themselves witness Loya’s deterioration on his final night until after he was at the Meditrina Institute of Medical Sciences, where he was taken after Dande Hospital and eventually declared dead.”

The Caravan piece noted a number of further instances of possible manipulation of the records pertaining to the death of the judge, including the occupancy register at the guesthouse at which the judge was staying, conflicting information regarding how and by whom the judge was taken to hospital, and -- the main piece of evidence cited in reference to a heart attack -- an unverified ECG from the Dande Hospital.

The Caravan report notes: “The main piece of evidence to emerge so far to suggest that Loya suffered a heart attack is the chart of an ECG purportedly conducted on the judge at Dande Hospital. The chart was reported on by NDTV and the Indian Express, and the latter also published an image of it. The time stamp on the ECG chart reads 5.11 am on 30 November 2014—a full day prior to Loya’s death. Loya’s family members have reported that he was in touch with them as late as at 11 pm on 30 November, and had no medical complaints at that point. Neither NDTV nor the Indian Express noted this anomaly when they first reported on the ECG chart. After it was pointed out on social media, the Indian Express updated the report in question with a statement from Pinak Dande, the owner of Dande Hospital, where he claimed the anomaly was due to a “technical glitch.” Such a glitch would mean that all ECG charts generated at Dande Hospital at around the same time display a similar dating error, but no such records have come to light.”

In January this year, four Supreme Court judges -- J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph -- alleged that Chief Justice Dipak Misra was not following established precedents in allocation of cases among the judges. The judges argued that failure to follow procedure was “adversely” affecting the justice delivery system. The judges followed a seven page letter of protest to the Chief Justice with a press conference. While the letter made no reference to judge Loya, the briefing alluded to the controversial death.

The move by the judges followed by the Supreme Court’s statement that the issue of judge Loya’s death is a serious matter requiring bi-party hearing, has kept media and public attention centred on the events leading to the controversial death. The statement by forensic expert RK Sharma further strengthens the basis of The Caravan’s original story and bolsters the need for an inquiry into the judge’s death.