India's Supreme Court has said that the 2014 death of a lower court judge, BH Loya, is a "serious matter" which needs to be examined objectively.
Judge Loya died of a heart attack before he was due to give a verdict in a case of ruling BJP party chief Amit Shah, accused of ordering a murder.
The new judge assigned to the case ruled against putting Mr Shah on trial. The top court is hearing petitions calling for a probe into allegations that the judge was murdered.
On Monday the court ordered the two other petitions pending in the case be transferred to itself from the Bombay High Court, and will now hear them in February.
Was Loya’s death mysterious? As of now, it is a natural death, observed Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, one of the three judges on the bench.
Dave agreed, but added he only wished it was, as there are several pointers that suggest the contrary. Although Dave sought to list a few such suspicions about the theory of natural death, the bench considered it premature to discuss their merits in the absence of a complete record of documents.
Therefore, the bench made an attempt to facilitate the gathering of these documents, both from the side of the Maharashtra government, and from the counsel, who claimed to have received “disturbing” materials under the Right to Information Act.
As the collating of relevant documents for the perusal of the bench is not complete, a brief adjournment of the hearing to facilitate this was expected. But the prelude to the hearing of the case suggested that there are huge stakes involved in its outcome, and any lapse on the part of the interveners could mean a huge setback to the efforts to unravel the truth.
In November, Indian magazine The Caravan published a story https://twitter.com/SpecialCorrespo/status/956193096592588800 in which Judge Loya's family raised serious questions over the circumstances around his death. This was followed by other media reports which questioned the family's claims.
The judges said that they would examine the original records of Judge Loya's death to determine the "circumstances that have led to the death".
A senior lawyer representing the Maharashtra government said that a police officer had carried out a "discreet inquiry" after the media reports.
The injury revealed that there was "no foul play" in Judge Loya's death, the newspaper quoted lawyer Harish Salve as telling the top court.
The issue of his death was also raised earlier this month, when four of India's most senior Supreme Court judges warned that democracy was under threat because of the way the court is run.
In an unprecedented event, they held a press conference and said that Chief Justice Dipak Misra was ignoring rules and assigning cases according to his own preferences.One of the concerns raised by the senior judges included the handling of Judge Loya's case.