New paperwork obtained throughout Proper to Info proceedings reveal that the bookings register of Ravi Bhawan—the federal government visitor home in Nagpur the place the decide BH Loya is claimed to have been staying on the time of his demise—accommodates no entries for the dates surrounding his stay. Copies of the register, which have been submitted by the Nagpur Public Works Division of the Maharashtra authorities, include no document of any suite booked for Loya or a number of different judges, who’re stated to have stayed at Ravi Bhawan in late November 2014. The judges are believed to have travelled to Nagpur to attend the marriage of a colleague’s member of the family. Between 28 November and 6 December 2014, the Ravi Bhawan bookings register data just one entry, on 30 November. It doesn’t include any entry for any decide. For the final six days of this era, the pages are lacking altogether.
In June this yr, The Caravan reported that in response to paperwork launched in response to RTI purposes, Maharashtra’s regulation and judiciary division had despatched a letter to the Nagpur Public Works Division Division Number one on 27 November 2014, requesting that a suite be reserved in Ravi Bhawan for Loya and one other decide, Vinay Joshi. The letter said that the judges “will be staying from early morning of 30.11.2014 till 7 am of 1.12.2014 for government work.” Further data made obtainable in response to an RTI software additionally revealed that earlier that month, one other letter issued to the Nagpur PWD sought to order eight suites on behalf of seven judges, who have been travelling to Nagpur “for some urgent work … from 29.11.2014 (7.00 a.m.) to 01.12.2014.” However the bookings register at Ravi Bhawan doesn’t include an entry for any of these 9 names—neither the seven judges, nor Loya and Joshi.
Six present and former staff of Ravi Bhawan informed us that each one reservations submitted in writing are recorded within the bookings register. The present and former staff managed the day-to-day affairs of the visitor home and have been concerned with the reserving of rooms. 4 of them stated that even an oral reserving over the telephone can be recorded with a corresponding entry within the bookings register. Whereas giving examples of the character of entries that might be recorded within the register, one worker advised us that the “correct protocol” was for reservations to return by way of the “PWD Division Number 1 of Nagpur.” The worker added, “A notification would then be written in the bookings register.” Each letters reserving the suites in Ravi Bhawan for the judges have been addressed to the Nagpur PWD Division Number one, beneath the native Public Works Division.
The absence of entries within the register on the dates surrounding Loya’s stay on the visitor home is especially suspicious in view of the chain of letters issued by Maharashtra authorities our bodies, together with the regulation division, reserving 9 suites on behalf of 9 totally different judges throughout this era.
The Caravan first reported on the mysterious circumstances surrounding Loya’s demise in November 2017, after the late decide’s relations got here ahead with their suspicions. Quickly after, Maharashtra’s State Intelligence Division carried out a “discreet inquiry” and concluded that the late decide died a pure demise. However The Caravan’s subsequent investigation into Loya’s dying revealed quite a few troubling particulars concerning the circumstances surrounding it, together with grave questions raised by testimonies of 17 present and former staff of Ravi Bhawan, and the attainable tampering of its occupancy register.
The shortage of entries within the copies of the bookings register is conspicuous, suggesting that pages from it might have been tampered with—even destroyed. The implications of this is able to be grave—in April this yr, the Supreme Courtroom dismissed petitions looking for an investigation into Loya’s demise, relying totally on the SID report submitted by the Maharashtra authorities. However the state authorities didn’t submit the regulation division’s letter requesting a set for Loya or the Ravi Bhawan bookings register earlier than the Supreme Courtroom. The destruction of any web page containing details about Loya’s stay at Ravi Bhawan would quantity to a destruction of proof that should have been positioned earlier than the courtroom.
On 6 June, Satish Uke, a lawyer and an activist, filed a right-to-information software earlier than the public-works division at Nagpur, looking for copies of all purposes acquired for reserving suites at Ravi Bhawan between 28 November 2014 and a couple of December 2014. In response, the PWD launched copies of the register from 27 to 30 November, every of which have been completely empty besides one entry on the final day, which didn’t pertain to any decide. It additionally launched copies of the pages for 7 and eight December 2014. Uke appealed the PWD’s choice, in search of the copies of the pages for 1 and a couple of December, and alleging that the unique document of 30 November had been “manipulated and removed to hide the criminal offences related to the death of Judge Loya.”
Through the attraction proceedings, Chandrashekhar Ishwar Giri, the Nagpur PWD’s public info officer and an assistant engineer, submitted that “after 30.11.2014, the concerned original register has the records from 7.12.2014 onwards.” Accordingly, Janardhan Bhanuse, an government engineer who’s the primary appellate authority, held, “Since there are no records for the dates from 1.12.2014 to 6.12.2014 in the said register, the question of providing the information sought by the appellant for the duration of 1.12.2014 to 2.12.2014 does not arise.”
The regulation division’s letter requesting a set for Loya and Joshi, dated 27 November 2014, said that the judges have been travelling to Nagpur “for government work”—contradicting the Maharashtra SID’s assertion that “Judge Loya was in Nagpur to attend the wedding in the family of a colleague.” The letter additionally accommodates a observe by a further engineer on the Nagpur PWD, directing a reserving clerk at Ravi Bhawan to “Give 1 suit in Building No.1.” The Nagpur District Authorized Providers Authority issued the letter reserving suites for the seven judges, on 19 November 2014, on behalf of the decide Swapna Joshi, whose member of the family was getting married on 30 November. The letter said that seven judges—Swapna Joshi, Shrikant Kulkarni, RG Avchat, RN Ladda, SM Modak, SB Bahalkar and LD Bile—have been travelling to Nagpur “for some urgent work.” Eight days later, the Nagpur PWD issued the letter in search of a reservation for Loya. However regardless of authorities reservations for the judges, and directions to a reserving clerk to allot a set in a specific constructing to Loya and Joshi, none of these names are talked about within the bookings register.
The previous and present staff of Ravi Bhawan defined that the visitor home maintains two registers—a bookings register, which incorporates reservations made prematurely, and an occupancy register, which data the stay of all of the visiting visitors. Six present and former staff of Ravi Bhawan confirmed that each one written reservations made forward of a go to are recorded within the bookings register. “The letters that come, or the reservations that are made on the phone, those are entered in the bookings register,” a second worker stated. In response to the primary worker, “If some secretary is coming, or a justice of high court is coming, or if any government-gazetted persons are coming, their names were first written in the bookings register.” The workers’ description of the reserving register and its use shouldn’t be mirrored within the copies offered by the Nagpur PWD. For the pages dated 27 to 29 November 2014, the register accommodates no entries, whereas the occupancy register data six entries for a similar three-day interval.
Among the many 9 judges for whom reservations have been requested, Kulkarni is the one one whose identify recorded in Ravi Bhawan’s occupancy register—he’s one of the seven judges named within the 19 November letter from the District Authorized Providers Authority. His identify doesn’t have a corresponding entry within the bookings register.
For 30 November 2014, the copy of the bookings register acquired by Uke data just one entry—of one “Nitin Raut,” A Nitin Raut is in the present day the chief of the All Indian Congress Committee’s Scheduled Caste division, and is predicated in Nagpur. When contacted, Raut stated that he didn’t recall whether or not he had made a reservation at Ravi Bhawan for that date. However the occupancy register data 5 entries for 30 November, together with one for “Registrar S Kulkarni.” In December final yr, The Caravan reported that the entry earlier than Kulkarni’s seems to have been tampered—it exhibits the visitor, underneath the identify Babasaheb Ambedkar Milind Pakhale, checking in to Ravi Bhawan on “30-11-17,” or 30 November 2017, although the web page data entries from 2014. The entry on the occupancy register from November 2014 exhibits the visitor testing three years into the longer term, at an unspecified time on the identical date, “30/11/17.” On 20 December 2017, the lawyer Milind Pakhale registered a grievance at Sadar police station in Nagpur, alleging that the entry he made within the Ravi Bhawan register had been manipulated.
The bookings register appears to point out indicators of manipulation for a similar time interval. The RTI appellate authority claimed that “after 30.11.2014, the concerned original register has the records from 7.12.2014 onwards” and that “there are no records for the dates from 1.12.2014 to 6.12.2014 in the said register.” The occupancy register data no less than seven entries on these dates—two on 2 December, two on three December, one on 5 December, and two on 6 December. For the dates surrounding Loya’s stay, not a single entry within the occupancy register is mirrored within the bookings register. Given the grievance of manipulation of the occupancy register, and its quite a few entries and lack of corresponding entries within the bookings register, it seems believable that the bookings register had additionally been tampered with for the dates surrounding Loya’s dying.
The absence of any written report of a room being booked for Loya at Ravi Bhawan turns into much more concerning in view of different correspondence that Uke has had with RTI authorities. The Maharashtra regulation division, in an RTI response dated 2 June 2018, had stated that the letter reserving the suite for Loya had been “destroyed” as a result of it was over one yr previous. IM Bhargav, who issued this response, is the regulation division’s public-information officer. She additionally serves because the division’s desk officer. By the way, Bhargav had signed the November 2014 letter issued to the Nagpur PWD to order a set for Loya at Ravi Bhawan.
Within the RTI software looking for a replica of the letter, Uke had additionally requested for any related “office notes and complete documents.” Bhargav responded:
Because the stated doc was issued on the oral instruction of the then Deputy Secretary, no remarks have been made about it. Equally, even when any doc has been launched by this workplace for the aim of reserving a set in Ravi Bhavan, the suite was not reserved based mostly on a doc of this workplace.
Bhargav’s unprompted and unsolicited assertion that Loya’s “suite was not reserved based on a document of this office” is conspicuous. Thereafter, in two RTI purposes dated 15 and 19 September 2018 respectively, Uke questioned Bhargav about this response. She replied on 21 September: “This office has not obtained any documents concerning the reservation of the suite. Therefore a personal opinion was given.” The Proper to Info Act doesn’t include any provision about public-information officers offering their “personal opinions” beneath any circumstance.
Bhargav’s private opinion, as said within the RTI response, can be absurd if it have been true. The copy of the letter acquired from the Nagpur’s PWD confirms that Ravi Bhawan had acquired two letters from the state authorities our bodies, together with the regulation division, reserving a number of suites on the dates surrounding Loya’s stay on the visitor home. The letter reserving the suite for Loya and Joshi, which she signed, was marked to the “Manager, Ravi Bhawan, Nagpur for necessary action” and contained the instructions from a further engineer to a reserving clerk—one “Shri Sawant”—to allot one suite in “Building No. 1.” Given this clear chain of correspondence to totally different members inside Ravi Bhawan, it’s obscure how Bhargav was so sure that the suite was not “not reserved based on a document of this office.”
Her responses increase a number of questions. If the suite was not booked based mostly on a doc of the regulation division, then why did it problem a letter reserving a set in any respect? Was Bhargav, in her private opinion, conscious that the bookings register at Ravi Bhawan wouldn’t have a document of any reservation underneath Loya or Joshi’s names? Furthermore, what circumstances prompted Bhargav, a public-information workplace, to supply private opinion in an RTI response? When referred to as by The Caravan, Bhargav stated that she would solely reply to queries over e mail. On the time this story was revealed, she had not responded to emailed questions.
Regardless of written and superior reservation for sitting judges made by the Maharashtra authorities’s regulation division, there isn’t a entry of their names. Based on the process described by the present and former staff of Ravi Bhawan, these reservations should have been recorded within the bookings register. It’s troublesome to consider that this can be a coincidence. However the various might suggest that these pages have been intentionally removed from the register. In that case, that may not solely quantity to a destruction of proof, however probably even to contempt of courtroom.
Arshu John is an assistant editor at The Caravan. He was beforehand an advocate working towards legal regulation in Delhi.
Nikita Saxena is a employees author at The Caravan.