Controversial death

‘He said he was stressed’: Tracking CBI judge Brijgopal Loya’s last journey from Nagpur to Latur

Was foul play responsible for the death of the judge presiding over a trial involving BJP president Amit Shah?

All 86 suites and 30 cottages of the sprawling government-run Ravi Bhawan complex in Nagpur have a fresh coat of paint. Maharashtra’s elected representatives are yet to arrive for the winter session of the state assembly, but the city is already busy with its other seasonal activity: weddings.

Three years ago, it was a wedding of the daughter of a fellow judge that brought sessions judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya from Mumbai to Nagpur on November 30, 2014. By all accounts, he stayed at Ravi Bhawan. On the morning of December 1, his family was told he had died of a heart attack.

According to police records, Loya died at 6.15 in the morning. He developed chest pain around 4 am and he was taken to two hospitals, but he could not be saved. The postmortem report records the cause of his death as “coronary artery insufficiency”.

In interviews to journalist Niranjan Takle, published recently by the Caravan magazine, the judge’s father and two sisters have raised suspicions about the circumstances of his death. The report quoted two unnamed sources in a local police station and the government medical college as saying that they had been informed of Loya’s death by midnight, and the postmortem was done shortly after midnight.

Since Loya was reportedly hearing only one case at that time – the allegedfake encounter of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in which Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah was an accused – the suspicions raised by his father and sisters have created a furore. The Supreme Court had shifted the case to Maharashtra after the Central Bureau of Investigation said a fair trial would not be possible in Gujarat. Loya was the second judge hearing the case in Mumbai, after the first judge took a transfer a day before Shah was expected to appear in the court on his instructions. After Loya’s death, a third judge MB Gosavi heard Shah’s discharge petition over three days and dropped charges against him on December 30, 2014.

In the light of the controversy, a range of people – from officials of Ravi Bhawan to doctors at three hospitals – have had to contend with visits from the police and journalists.

For VL Moroney, the sectional engineer of Maharashtra’s Public Works Department who is responsible for the management of the Ravi Bhawan complex, this meant digging out the records for November 2014. “I joined in 2015 so I do not know anything about the case,” he said. “But it is good that in the government, you have to maintain records for 15 years.”

The records showed that five rooms were booked by the Bombay High Court protocol officer for two days but only two rooms were occupied. “Two rooms – 10 number suite and 20 number suite – in the name of Mr Kulkarni and Mrs Phansalkar,” Moroney said. No first names have been noted in the records, nor who else stayed in the rooms.

Justice Bhushan Gavai, a judge of the Bombay High Court who was the administrative head of the Nagpur bench in 2014, told the Indian Express that Loya had travelled and stayed at the guesthouse with two other judges Shridhar Kulkarni and Shriram Modak.

It was unlikely all three stayed in one room, said Moroney. “Only two people can stay in one room,” he said. “It has just two beds, and no space for an extra bed.” He suggested that Mrs Phansalkar may have been a local judge who had taken the room in her name on behalf of the wedding guests from Mumbai.

Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi is currently a judge of the Bombay High Court. was unable to contact Kulkarni, Modak and Phansalkar.

The state-run Ravi Bhawan complex in Nagpur, where Brijgopal Harkishan Loya reportedly stayed. Credit: Supriya Sharma
The state-run Ravi Bhawan complex in Nagpur, where Brijgopal Harkishan Loya reportedly stayed. Credit: Supriya Sharma

According to police records, Loya developed a chest pain at 4 am. The records which were first created by Nagpur’s Sitabuldi police station were later transferred to Sadar police station where senior police inspector Sunil Bonde allowed to access them briefly.

Justice Gavai told the Indian Express that Kulkarni and Modak phoned local judge Vijay Kumar Barde and deputy registrar Rupesh Rathi, who drove Loya to Dande Hospital 2 km away in a car.

In an interview to Takle, the reporter of the Caravan story, Loya’s sister Anuradha Biyani claimed he was taken there in an autorickshaw. She described it as “an obscure place” and said she later heard the ECG or electrocardiography machine there was not working.

But Dr Pinak Dande, 50, said the hospital has at least one ECG machine on each of its three floors. Established in 1996, the hospital has now grown large enough to have two buildings – Dande old and Dande new, each with 50 beds.

“We are known for trauma care,” Dande said. The hospital is located less than a kilometre from the Mumbai-Nagpur highway, which used to be the site of major accidents until a bypass road was built, he said. “We attend emergencies 24 hours which other hospitals in the area don’t,” Dande said “That’s why they [the judges] might have come to us.”

Dande was not in the hospital when Loya was brought in, but after the police came to make inquiries last week, he claims to have spoken to the doctor who was on the night shift when the judge visited. The doctor recalled that Loya had walked up the stairs and complained of a chest pain, following which an ECG was done. “The signs and symptoms showed cardiac issues, so we recommended them to go to a higher facility for cardiac care,” Dande said.

Asked for the ECG report, Dande said the hospital maintains records only for patients who are admitted. But Sadar police station has a copy of the ECG in its records of the case. After the Indian Express published a copy of the ECG, many have drawn attention to the time noted on it – 5.11 on November 30. If Loya died in the early hours of December 1, 2014, how could the ECG have been done the previous morning?

“Any device which records time and date in the digital format, like this clock,” said Dande, pointing to the wall, “can make a mistake”. He called for an ECG machine. “Look at the slip, it is less than three inches in height, the date is so tiny, we barely notice it, we are always focused on the graph.”

Dande said it was not possible for the hospital to track down which ECG machine had been used for Loya’s examination. “Machines break down, are sent for repairs, we even exchange machines between the two hospitals,” he said.

Dande agreed to arrange a meeting with the night shift doctor who had attended to Loya. But the meeting did not take place since Dande said he was busy when called him the next day.

Dande Hospital in Nagpur, where Brijgopal Harkishan Loya was reportedly taken after he complained of chest pains. Credit: Supriya Sharma
Dande Hospital in Nagpur, where Brijgopal Harkishan Loya was reportedly taken after he complained of chest pains. Credit: Supriya Sharma

Three kilometres further southeast lies Meditrina Institute of Medical Sciences. On the first floor of the glass-fronted building, patients and their families were tightly squeezed on cushioned stools outside the room of cardiologist Dr Pankaj Harkut last week. According to the police records, Harkut attended to Loya in the cardiac intensive care unit when he was brought here from Dande Hospital.

Harkut said he had received a call early on the morning of December 1 that a critical case had arrived. He rushed to the hospital, getting there in 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, Dr Abhay Ganar, the anesthesiologist and critical care consultant, administered CPR – cardiopulmonary resuscitation – to Loya. “When he was brought here, he was pulseless and BPless [blood pressure-less], so in such case we start CPR without wasting time,” said the diminutive Harkut, who is 40 years old, and has ten years of experience as a doctor.

When Harkut reached the hospital, an ECG was done “and it showed terminal agonal rhythm”, he said, describing it as the last rhythm of the heart. “Subsequently some relatives brought the ECG from Dande hospital which showed evidence of myocardial infarction, or very early signs of a heart attack.”

The attempts to revive Loya failed. He was declared dead at 6.15 am on December 1, 2014.

The cause of death was noted as “undetermined” and a postmortem was recommended. “We did not know the previous history and we had no time to do an investigation,” Harkut said. The cause of death cannot be ascertained on the basis of the agonal rhythm. “Even when the cause of death is very certain, we still advise postmortem when death occurs within 24 hours of hospital arrival,” he said. “It is usual precaution.” called Dr Abhay Ganar, who had administered CPR to Loya, according to Harkut. Ganar said he left Meditrina Hospital in 2015 and now works at the Government Medical College. “If Dr Harkut says I was there that morning, I must have been there – I used to often do night shifts in the ICU at Meditrina – but I don’t remember the details of this case,” Ganar said.

Harkut said he remembers the case details because he had looked at the records afresh after the police came to make enquiries in the wake of the Caravan report. What he recalled from memory, however, was that Loya had been accompanied by three or four judges, two of whom he recognised. “Rupesh Rathi is known to me personally,” he said. “Barde’s mother was my patient.” Vijay Kumar Barde is the judge who reportedly drove Loya to the hospital. was unable to contact him. Rathi, who is now posted as a district judge in Baramati, Pune, refused to speak to, citing judicial protocol.

Harkut said he did not have the authority to show Loya’s medical records, including the second ECG, and asked the publication to contact Dr NB Gawande, the hospital’s medico-legal officer for permission. Gawande did not respond to calls and text messages. Dr Sameer Paltewar, the director of the hospital, took the call but declined to comment.

The police records seen by did not feature the second ECG but had copies of the death report and the final bill amounting to Rs 5,540. A sticker on the documents mentioned the time of admission as 6.27 am. Harkut explained this: “When a patient comes in emergency, we don’t do admission formalities before the CPR. This is done by relatives afterwards.”

All the documents noted Loya’s name incorrectly as Brijmohan Loya, and the name of the person who brought him as Shrikant Kulkarni, who is described as his friend. Justice Gavai was quoted in the Indian Express saying the name of the judge who had travelled with Loya was Shridhar Kulkarni. This list of district judges in Maharashtra features the names of both Shridhar and Shrikant Kulkarni. could not establish which of them had accompanied Loya.

Doctors in Nagpur's Meditrina Hospital reportedly administered CPR to Brijgopal Loya, after he was taken there from Dande Hospital. Credit: Supriya Sharma
Doctors in Nagpur's Meditrina Hospital reportedly administered CPR to Brijgopal Loya, after he was taken there from Dande Hospital. Credit: Supriya Sharma

By the time Dr Prashant Rathi, a 46-year-old orthopaedic doctor whose name features in the police records as mritakcha chulatbhau – the cousin brother of the deceased – reached Meditrina hospital, he said that the doctors told him that the judge was dead.

Rathi clarified that he had never met Loya and was only related to him distantly through his uncle Rukmesh Pannalal Jakhotia, who lives in Aurangabad. “He is my mausa ji: my mother’s younger sister’s husband,” he said. Jakhotia’s mother and Loya’s mother are sisters, he added.

That morning, around 6.30, Rathi said he was getting ready to leave for his morning exercise regime, when Jakotia called him: “He said, my first cousin is in Medi Hospital – he could not remember the word exactly – he is critical, please go confirm his status, take care till we reach there, and update us accordingly.”

Rathi said as a doctor it was not hard for him to guess that Medi Hospital meant Meditrina. He reached the hospital within 15 minutes. He was directed to the Cardiac ICU by the staff at the reception. As he asked for Loya, a man came forward who introduced himself as Rupesh Rathi. Rupesh Rathi, the deputy registrar of the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court, said, “please meet the doctor, they are waiting for some relative”, Prashant Rathi recalled. “I said I am not a relative. He said lekin coordinate aap hi karenge na, aage.” The doctor told him Loya had died.

Prashant Rathi conveyed the news to his uncle. “Mausa said instead of us travelling for 14 hours to pick the body, can you manage and send the body,” Rathi said said. “I said yes I can do that.” Jakotia also put him in touch with “one Mr Ishwar Baheti”.

In a phone conversation, Jakhotia, 62, confirmed this. He said Baheti had called him early in the morning, saying Loya had taken ill in Nagpur, and asking Jakhotia if he could send someone to the hospital to get an update. The call did not surprise Jakhotia. “Baheti is an old friend of Loya,” he said. “They have known each other for 35 years. He is more than a brother.”

Prashant Rathi runs an orthopaedic clinic in the bustling Dharampeth area of Nagpur. Credit: Supriya Sharma
Prashant Rathi runs an orthopaedic clinic in the bustling Dharampeth area of Nagpur. Credit: Supriya Sharma

Ishwar Baheti also called Pawan Ladda, an ayurvedic doctor and neighbour of Loya’s sister Padma Randad in Latur.

“Baheti called me at around 6.30 am and said that the relative of a judge who had died lived in my galli [lane] and that I should go be with the family,” Ladda recalled. Baheti, Ladda said, had already informed the family.

Ladda went to Randad’s house immediately. Within half an hour, around 25 others from the local Marwari community to which the Loya belongs had also gathered there.

“At the time, we did not know he was a big CBI judge or what case he was handling,” Ladda said. “We were just told that the dead body was on its way and that we should wait there.”

Baheti, the youngest of four brothers, runs a well-known medical shop that supplies medicines to several hospitals in Latur city. One of his older brothers, Hansraj, is a renowned urologist in Latur who also operates a hospital and ICU out of the same building.

Loya’s sister Anuradha Biyani told Caravan that Baheti was a worker with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and that nobody knew how, why or when he had found out about Loya’s death. Baheti got in touch with another of Loya’s sisters Savita Mandhane at a hospital in Latur, where she had gone to pick up her nephew after she heard of her brother’s death. Baheti reportedly asked her not to go to Nagpur as the body was already on its way to Latur, according to a statement Mandhane gave to the Caravan. (Caravan report spells her first name as Sarita but Shrinivas Loya told that it is Savita.)

Baheti also returned Loya’s phone to the family three days after he died, but with all data wiped, said Mandhane.

Despite several visits to Baheti’s medical shop in Latur and multiple calls to his phone, which has been switched off, was unable to speak with Baheti to ask how he got Loya’s phone or how he knew where Mandhane was.

Ishwar Bajrang Baheti's shop in Latur. Credit: Mridula Chari
Ishwar Bajrang Baheti's shop in Latur. Credit: Mridula Chari

Loya’s uncle Shrinivas Loya, who lives in Latur city, confirmed that Baheti had in fact been the judge’s friend for several years. Loya lived with his uncle in Latur while studying law in the 1980s and had been close to Baheti ever since. Randad declined to give a statement to, but confirmed that Baheti had been a friend of Loya’s.

Nor does Baheti seem to be an RSS worker, according to several people familiar with local politics. Ladda said that Baheti and his family have been associated with the Congress for years, having been especially close to former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, who was also from Latur. Baheti’s father-in-law and wife, however, are known to have leanings to the Right, Ladda added.

Shrinivas Loya also affirmed that Baheti was a Congress supporter. A senior RSS functionary in Latur, who asked not to be identified, claimed that there was no Ishwar Baheti among the Sangh’s members.

It is possible that this might be a case of mistaken identity. Loya’s friend was Ishwar Govindlal Baheti of Baheti Medical Store and with family affiliations to the Congress. Another Ishwar Baheti, son of Bajrang Baheti, also lives in Latur. This Baheti told that he was an RSS member around 25 years ago.

According to Ladda, the family friend Baheti’s role in organising the funeral and mobilising people from Latur’s approximately 2,200 Marwari families was not out of the ordinary. Ladda himself arranged for water and chairs for community members who had gathered at that house.

“In the Marwari community, everyone will gather if there is a death,” added Shrinivas Loya. “They will even arrange food – and later give the family the bill.”

Ladda did not know who had informed Baheti of Loya’s death. He said that if someone from outside Latur wanted to contact the Marwari community there, Baheti was active enough in social activities that his mobile number might plausibly be among those passed on to outsiders.

Baheti Hospital and Medical Centre, run by Ishwar Baheti's family in Latur. Credit: Mridula Chari
Baheti Hospital and Medical Centre, run by Ishwar Baheti's family in Latur. Credit: Mridula Chari

In Nagpur, Dr Prashant Rathi said the judges gathered in Meditrina Hospital arranged for a car in which he travelled to the Sitabuldi police station. He said he was accompanied by a judge – he could not recollect his name – and the judge’s personal assistant and driver. Rathi gave a statement about Loya’s death. This statement onwards the records note that Loya was brought dead to Meditrina Hospital.

According to the police records, RK Munde was the duty officer at Sitabuldi police station then. When called Munde, who is now posted in Nanded, 340 km away, he recalled the case. “I was on the night shift which was to end at 9 am,” he said. “But I stayed till the judge’s body was handed over to his relative.” The body was transferred in an ambulance to the mortuary in the Government Medical College, where the panchnama was prepared before the postmortem was done.

The panchnama which is part of the police records was signed by two witnesses – Rajesh Domaji and Dnyaneshwar Wankhede. could not trace Domaji but spoke to Wankhede.

Wankhede is a government driver assigned to the office of the principal district judge in Nagpur. In December 2014, the principal district judge was Kishor Sonawane. Sonawane “got a call from the High Court registrar that a judge had died in Nagpur”, recalled Wankhede.

Wankhede said he drove Sonawane to Meditrina Hospital, and from there to the Government Medical College, along with five other judges from Nagpur and three or four guest judges from Mumbai. The postmortem was wrapped up around noon or 1 pm, Wankhede said, at which point the police asked him and deputy registrar Rupesh Rathi’s driver, whose full name is Rajesh Domaji Dhande, to sign as witnesses on the panchnama.

The postmortem report carries the name of constable Pankaj Nikam, as the one who brought the body to the mortuary. Nikam, who is still posted at Sitabuldi police station, told he did not take the body to the mortuary. He was on the morning shift and got a call from the police station asking him to report directly at the medical college. He took over the laash hifaazat or corpse custody duty from the night shift constable. “I remember this because it was the first time I was doing this duty outside the postmortem hall,” said the 30-year-old who joined police service in 2014.

A view of mortuary and postmortem hall at the Government Medical College, Nagpur. Credit: Supriya Sharma
A view of mortuary and postmortem hall at the Government Medical College, Nagpur. Credit: Supriya Sharma

According to the police records, the postmortem was conducted between 10.55 am and 11.55 am by Dr NK Tumram and the final report was signed by him and the head of the forensic science department Dr PG Dixit.

When called Tumram, he refused to comment, saying it would be inappropriate for him to speak to a journalist about a postmortem he had done. The next evening, visited the Indira Gandhi Medical College and Hospital, where he currently teaches. He was sitting in a room with two of his colleagues – it was 6 pm and the department was closing for the day.

He said he must have conducted 10,000 postmortems since he became a forensics specialist in 2006. As part of his work, he does not pay attention to the identity of the person or the circumstances surrounding his death, to a point where he often discovers about a murder case he had handled from the next day’s papers. “We remember all the news from you [journalists] only the next day, aisa kuch aaya hai,” he said. “Otherwise we don’t bother, or we will get prejudiced.”

He had no idea that he had conducted the postmortem of a judge, he claimed, until last week, when the police and journalists started making inquiries. “To comment on anything is not good, not good for my health also,” he said, laughing.

Dr PG Dixit, who was then the head of the forensic department in Nagpur, is now posted in Government Medical College, Miraj, 800 km away. Asked about his signature on the postmortem report, he said he does not verify the findings of reports prepared by other doctors. His signature simply implies: “This report belongs to our department. This is an authentic report.”

But what about the other details like the time of the postmortem? Caravan reported two unnamed sources as saying the postmortem took place shortly after midnight. “If it took place at night, we would have written so,” he said. Night postmortems in his 33 years of experience, he said, took place only under “extraordinary circumstances”.

This corridor leads to the forensic science department of the Government Medical College in Nagpur. Credit: Supriya Sharma
This corridor leads to the forensic science department of the Government Medical College in Nagpur. Credit: Supriya Sharma

Dusty fans hung from the tall ceilings of the forensic department at the government medical college in Nagpur. Until 10 am on Thursday, the department was empty. First, the peons arrived, then the clerks. By 10.30 am, one doctor had signed in and gone straight to the back of the building to carry out a post-mortem. Emerging briefly from the postmortem hall, Dr JL Borkar, an assistant professor who has been posted here since 2009, said that the department conducted an average of ten postmortems every day. Borkar said night postmortems were extremely rare.

Almost everybody at the department confirmed this. In the office, Dr VN Ambade, who has been recently posted to the department, said: “We are available on campus and the police can call us [for a postmortem]. But that rarely happens.”

Ambade had vaguely heard about the controversy surrounding the death of a judge but did not know the specifics. Shown the details of the postmortem report noted down by from the police records, Ambade said one of the findings – “lividity over backs and buttocks not fixed” – indicated that the postmortem was done not too long after the death.

At the bottom of the postmortem report were its main findings: “Evidence of atheroocterzris in left coronary and left anterior descending artery with calcification and luminal narrowing of 100% 1cm distal to its origin and 90% 2 cm distal to its origin respectively. Evidence of hypertrophy of left ventricle present.”

As he read this, Ambade exclaimed: “My god!” If Loya had gone for a medical checkup, “he would not have come to Nagpur”. He would have been recommended an angiography and a bypass to unblock his coronary artery, the vessels that supply blood to the heart.

Dr Rajesh Dere, professor, Forensic department at KEM hospital in Mumbai, confirmed this. “The post mortem findings signify ischemic heart disease (also known as coronary artery disease),” he said. “The narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart are significantly blocked which shows that he had a heart attack.” Dere added that another finding – hypertrophy or increased size of the heart – could be a result of hypertension.

Ambade said one of the findings of the histopathology report – “artery shows atheromatons plaque with marked narrowing of lumen” – matched the findings of the postmortem report. This report was prepared by another doctor, Dr SM Kawathalkar. could not speak to him.

Anuradha Biyani, Loya’s sister, who is herself a government doctor, however, had claimed he was healthy. “He had no cardiac history and no one from our family has it.”

The Cardiac Intensive Care Unit of Meditrina Hospital where Loya was reportedly admitted. Credit: Supriya Sharma
The Cardiac Intensive Care Unit of Meditrina Hospital where Loya was reportedly admitted. Credit: Supriya Sharma

The Caravan report quoted Loya’s sisters as saying they had seen bloodstains on Loya’s shirt.

Shrinivas Loya says he did not see any blood on Loya’s clothes when his body arrived in Latur from Nagpur. However, in the rush, Loya said he did not examine the body very closely.

“I only found out that Anuradha [Biyani, Loya’s sister who spoke to Caravan] had seen the blood when I read about it in the news,” Loya said.

Ambade, the doctor in the forensic department of Nagpur government medical college, said blood could ooze out during and after a postmortem. “The blood clots in the minor vessels rapidly but what about the blood in the major vessels and organs,” he said. “We do not always dry the body cavities with a vacuum.”

According to the postmortem report, Loya was wearing a brown shirt with blue jeans at the time he died. It is not clear whether the clothes were draped around his body before it was wrapped in a sheet, or sent to Latur separately in a bag. The doctors in the forensic department said clothes are draped on the body only on the request of relatives. Prashant Rathi does not recall asking for Loya’s body to be draped in his clothes. Ambade said sometimes clothes are placed next to the body when it is wrapped in a sheet.

Wankhede, the judge’s driver who signed the panchnama as a witness, was unable to comment on whether Loya’s clothes had been put in a separate bag. The ambulance left for Latur from there, followed by two judges, Wankhede said. spoke to a judicial officer who did not want to be identified because he is not authorised to speak to journalists under judicial protocol. He said two judicial officers – Yogesh Rahangdale and Swayam Chopda – volunteered to travel with Loya’s body to Latur. In the morning, Rahangdale had received a call from Sriram Palod, another judge in Mumbai who knew Loya’s family. He said they had heard Loya had taken unwell. He wanted Rahangdale to gather first-hand information about Loya’s medical condition. Rahangdale asked his colleagues in Nagpur and discovered Loya had died in Meditrina Hospital.

Volunteering to travel with the body, Rahangdale, Chopda and a policeman followed the ambulance in a Maruti Swift Dzire. Thirty kilometres short of Nanded, the car, which was owned by Rahangdale and driven by a government driver, had a minor accident. They called the ambulance driver and asked him to stop. The judicial officer insisted that the car entered Latur with the ambulance. Here, the group was joined by other judges who had travelled from Mumbai to attend Loya’s funeral. The ambulance, trailed by cars, reached the village late at night.

The Loya family home in Gategaon. Credit: Mridula Chari
The Loya family home in Gategaon. Credit: Mridula Chari

Biharilal Mandhane, an uncle of Brijmohan Loya’s (Loya was his “putniya”, the grandson of Mandhane’s maternal uncle), lives 21 kilometres away from Latur city in Gategaon, Loya’s ancestral village, where he and Loya’s father own around 40 acres of land between them. Mandhane said that a crowd of a few thousand people gathered at Gategaon by the evening of December 1.

The Caravan reported that colleagues and friends who had gathered at the village for the funeral pressured the family into going through with it without conducting a second postmortem.

Shrinivas Loya said that the family did indeed at the time wonder whether they should delay the funeral to conduct a post-mortem.

“We thought we should do another post mortem in Latur, but all our relatives had already come [on December 1],” Shrinivas Loya recalled. “They asked us why we wanted to delay the funeral and where we would be able to do the postmortem in the city.”

There was already a crowd of a few thousand people in Gategaon. Police from Latur city had to be called in to manage traffic and movements of people. Feeling they had no other choice, Shrinivas Loya said, the family decided to go ahead with the funeral on the morning of December 2.

Mandhane recounted that Loya’s funeral took place in Harkishan Loya’s field, as is common among landowning families in that area. The judicial officer in Nagpur had told separately that the cremation was done in a field and was attended by nearly 30 judges in civil clothes.

Biharilal Mandhane, Shrinivas Loya and Padma Randad all confirmed that Rukmesh Jakotia was their relative. None of them knew who Prashant Rathi was. They also corroborated Caravan’s account that no judge accompanied the body in the ambulance.

Asked about this, the judicial officer said the family probably meant there was no one “inside the ambulance”, since the judges who had travelled from Nagpur followed behind in a car.

Shrinivas Loya at his residence in Latur. Credit: Mridula Chari
Shrinivas Loya at his residence in Latur. Credit: Mridula Chari

In Nagpur, by the evening of December 1, the case had been transferred from Sitabuldi police station to Sadar police station, since Ravi Bhawan fell in its jurisdiction, and assistant police inspector Shri Shail Gaja had taken charge as the investigating officer. According to the police records, he wrote to the medical college on December 10, asking them to note the correct first name of Loya: Brijgopal and not Brijmohan, as had been entered in all documents until then, including the advance postmortem report dated December 6.

Now posted in the Gittikhadan police station, Gaja, had an explanation for why the police did not hand over Loya’s phone to his family directly: the police did not take custody of Loya’s possessions in the first place. “We would have done so if he did not have any friends and relatives around,” said Gaja. “And in this case his friends were judges.”

Prashant Rathi said he did not handle any of Loya’s possessions, least of all his phone. “Phone to pakka alag se nahi tha.” It is not clear how the phone reached Baheti in Latur.

Gaja said he tried to contact Loya’s family through Gategoan village’s police patil and the tanta-mukta adhyaksh (appointed under the dispute-free village scheme). To complete his investigation, he needed the family’s statements that they had no suspicions or complaints regarding Loya’s death. But the village officials could not help him, he said. “Maybe they felt awkward talking to a judge’s family. Bade log hai.” They redirected him to Baheti, who told him the family had no complaints.

Gaja filed his final report to the assistant commissioner of police Somnath Waghchaure in February 2016. Waghchaure sent back the file in April 2016 asking him to get the family’s statement and also the records of Ravi Bhawan as proof that Loya had stayed there. Since Loya’s death was not recorded as unnatural, Gaja said it was not seen as an important case. He could not spare time for it. A few months later, he was transferred.

Senior police inspector Sunil Bonde took charge of Sadar police station in May 2017. After the Caravan report appeared, the officer of the commissioner of police called him and asked him to pull out the records, he said. His junior colleague, police inspector Ravindra Thorat said he has been trying to locate Loya’s family but has been unsuccessful so far.

Biharilal Mandhane at his home in Gategaon. Credit: Mridula Chari
Biharilal Mandhane at his home in Gategaon. Credit: Mridula Chari

The last time Loya came to Latur and Gategaon was in October 2014, for Diwali, an annual ritual for him. Ordinarily a jovial man – “mast jolly nature tha uska”, said Shrinivas Loya’s wife – Loya displayed signs of great stress that year, according to several people who met him then.

“He told us that he was stressed because of a case, but he did not tell us more,” said Shrinivas Loya.

Uday Gaware, a classmate of Loya’s in law college, confirmed this. “He had said that Diwali that he was under great pressure, but he took no names.”

Biharilal Mandhane went further. “In Diwali, Briju said this case is in my hand and I have given [Amit Shah] a clean chit,” Mandhane said. “I do not even know what a clean chit is, but Briju told me that because I am in the BJP.”

Almost three years later, the Loya family gathered in the second week of November for the engagement of one of their relatives. At that time, neither Shrinivas Loya nor Padma Randad had any inkling that Anuradha Biyani, Savita Mandhane and Harkishan Loya had spoken to Caravan.

That was the last time they met. Since the article was published, the three family members who spoke to Niranjan Takle, the reporter who did the story for Caravan, have switched off their phones. Nobody in the family has been able to speak to them since.

The Times of India reported that Anuj Loya, son of Brijgopal Loya, on Tuesday handed a letter to Bombay High Court chief justice Manjula Chellar saying that he has no doubts about the circumstances of his father’s death.

An air of fear still hangs over the family.

The wives of both Biharilal Mandhane and Shrinivas Loya were reluctant to allow their husbands to speak to, though both eventually did. In Loya’s case, their relatives had asked him not to speak to the media.

“Aane vali generation jo hai, unko takleef nahi honi chahiye, isliye hum khamosh hai,” Shrinivas Loya said. We are silent because we don’t want our younger relatives to face any troubles.

In Gategaon, Biharilal Mandhane’s wife was reluctant to speak freely the first time visited the village. The second time, Mandhane was present and spoke at some length about Loya and the rest of his family. Harkishan Loya’s house, a somewhat modern building compared to the Mandhane’s neighbouring stone and brick house, has been locked for at least two weeks.

Shrinivas Loya was reluctant to divulge any details about the family. Asked where the other members were, he said that he did not know because he was not in contact with them. When pressed, he gave vague directions. attempted to contact former neighbours of Loya’s at his official residence in Haji Ali in Mumbai. Since judges have a three-year transfer cycle, no current resident in the building admitted to knowing him or his family.

Advocate Uday Gaware in the library of the District Court in Latur. Credit: Mridula Chari
Advocate Uday Gaware in the library of the District Court in Latur. Credit: Mridula Chari
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