The Big Story: Court monitor

This week a schoolteacher from Maharashtra told a Special Court that he did not remember helping translate the statements of eyewitness to the abduction of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a wanted criminal who was allegedly killed in a fake encounter in 2005. The prosecution ultimately declared the teacher a hostile witness because he refused to own up his own statements recorded in a punchnama from 2010. This makes him the 45th witness to turn hostile in the case, out of 66 who have been examined so far. That is a stunning number, and speaks volumes about the nature of the case that has been the cause of much controversy, not least because Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah was originally one of the accused.

The oddities in the case, including witnesses turning hostile and judges being transferred, have been so unusual that a Bombay High Court judge in February said there were “absurd inconsistencies” in the way the case had moved forward and something “suspicious” and “contrary to common sense” in the proceedings. But because the witnesses have turned hostile, and the Special Court has already discharged a number of the accused, it seems likely that the case will amount to very little, a travesty considering the questions of law and order that were at stake.

Among the most controversial elements of how the Sohrabuddin case has proceeded has been the death of Judge BH Loya. The judge was transferred to the Special Court in 2014, but died in mysterious circumstances in December of that year, with his family saying that he had been under pressure from others in the judiciary to give a “favourable” verdict in the case. The Caravan first reported on the family’s concerns about the manner of Loya’s death and the various unusual circumstances around it. In a new report this week, a further two-month investigation throws up even more questions about how exactly Loya died and what is known about the night that it happened.

After the story was reported, the matter was taken up by the Opposition and brought to the judicial arena through petitions seeking clarity in a matter in which the very independence of the judiciary is at stake. Yet here too there were unusual moves by the judiciary, which reportedly was among the concerns that prompted Supreme Court Justice Chelameshwar to raise questions about the conduct of Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

Earlier in March, a bench headed by Misra reserved its order on a plea seeking a court-monitored investigation into Loya’s death. The government has claimed that there was nothing suspicious about the death, despite all the unusual circumstances around it, while the petitioners have argued that, since the very independence of the judiciary is at stake, a thorough investigation is necessary. They are right. Developments in the Sohrabuddin case make it clear that an investigation that is not carefully monitored – even though that one was supposed to have judicial oversight – eventually falls apart. In this case, there is the higher order question of what happened to a judge in the same case, and serious questions have been raised about the circumstances to necessitate a thorough investigation. The Sohrabuddin case may be falling apart, but the judiciary should not permit the same thing to happen in the Loya case, that has implications for every other judge as well.

The Big Scroll

  • Why the Supreme Court should take questions about the death of a CBI judge seriously
  • ‘He said he was stressed’: Tracking CBI judge Brijgopal Loya’s last journey from Nagpur to Latur
  • What we now know about the death of Special CBI judge Brijgopal Loya.
  • Judge Loya’s death: Why an ECG has become so crucial to the case.
  • Not just Judge Loya’s death: ‘Absurd inconsistencies’ in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case.

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  1. “The government directing and setting the terms of debates [about ethics in journalism], as it attempted to do with the amended guidelines, is a dangerous disruption of democratic checks and balances. It cannot be seen as an act of good faith,” says a leader in Mint.
  2. “In South Asian politics, caste has been a rallying point in mobilising votes at the time of elections,” writes TK Arun in the Economic Times. “But democracy, with its commitment to equality before the law, is inimical to caste. Relentless democratisation of every walk of life is the way to challenge and defeat caste.
  3. “With one-fifth the economy of Beijing, Delhi has finally realised it cannot battle with the Chinese on a daily basis,” writes Jyoti Malhotra in the Indian Express. “And that India’s neighbourhood must, hopefully, be won differently.
  4. “In the longer run, full modernisation of the banking sector requires further structural reforms. One such reform that must be high up on the agenda of the next government is privatisation of all public sector banks other than the State Bank of India,” writes Arvind Panagariya in the Times of India.


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However, the April 1 gunfights have raised more questions about how to deal with the situation. If this is the way that militants are to be taken off the scene, then it sets a dangerous trend of security forces versus the population.

Sunday’s bloodbath shows how intricately militants and the civilian population are linked. It also shows how the civilian population prefers to side with militants rather than so-called security forces. Are they supposed to be in Kashmir for the security of the people?

Local participation in militancy has led to huge civilian support for the structures that hold it together. This is especially true of South Kashmir. A large number of local youth who have joined the ranks no longer find themselves in isolation or ostracised. The general public rallied behind militants in the 1990s too, at the height of militancy. This time there is even more aggressive support, visible when people try to foil armed operations. Going after militants sometimes looks like an operation to take on the population.

To kill 13 militants, the security forces also had to kill four civilians and injure over 150, besides locking down South Kashmir and other parts of Valley. Some of the injured civilians are badly hit with pellets from shotguns. This huge collateral cost will work as ammunition for anger, which will make new militants.