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Brave Whistleblower

Brave Whistleblower

As good journalists do, Mumbai-based investigative journalist Niranjan Takle always kept his eyes and ears open to pick a story. Little did he know that this one would turn out to be the story of his lifetime; bring tremors in the world of Indian politics and the Judiciary!

“I was in Pune meeting a friend for a story on Jana sangh leader Savarkar that I was doing for The Week, (magazine) when he asked me to meet his friend Nupur Biyani. She wanted to disclose something important to a journalist,” Takle told Indian Currents on phone from Mumbai. Nupur was the daughter of the late CBI Judge the Brijgopal Harkishen Loya’s sister. It was two years ago – December 1, 2014, that the 48-year Judge had died of a heart attack at a time when he was hearing an important case of custodial killing of Sohrabuddin in which BJP national president Amit Shah was one of the key accused.

The judge had complained of pressure to his father and sister to take the case in one particular direction and now his niece was pointing to the suspicious circumstances of his death.

There was something fishy about Loya’s death: she told Takle.

At that time Takle was not convinced: “It was 80 per cent hearsay – something that she had heard from others. Her original eye witness account was only 20 per cent.” Takle didn’t think much but still decided to meet others in her family to dig more.

He travelled to Dhule where he met Judge’s sister Anuradha Biyani, a doctor. She spoke of why as a doctor she smells foul play in Loya’s death. There were inconsistencies in the reports of medical examinations done to determine the cause of death at Nagpur where Loya had gone from Mumbai to attend a wedding. The family was informed of his death on phone only after the post mortem was over and the body had been sent to his home village Gategoan in Dhule, Maharashtra.

The judge had told Anuradha that he was being offered money and a house in Mumbai for clearing Amit Shah in the case. He even told his father that he was mulling of putting in his papers since the pressure to manipulate the judgment was increasing with each passing day.

Dr Biyani was indeed intrigued by a few more facts: there were blood stains on collar and back of Judge’s shirt that he wore at the time of his death. She knew that body does not bleed after the death during post mortem. The family didn’t understand why they were not informed of his death immediately; why the authorities at the Nagpur hospital and police didn’t seek their consent before taking Loya’s body for post mortem. One of Loya’s sisters was met by a stranger at Nagpur and told not to visit the medical college as Loya’s body had been dispatched to Gategoan. Later she wondered how the man knew her whereabouts.

The same RSS activist surfaces in the entire episode many a times and he later handed over Loya’s mobile phone to the family.

Takle spoke to Loya’s parents and his sisters. Everyone openly talked about all the distressing facts. However, he found that nobody wanted to speak in front of Anuj, the late judge’s younger son, who was most affected by his father’s untimely death. Now Takle was keen to speak to Anuj and the family decided to get together in Pune to find the possibility of him opening up before the visitor.

Takle recalls his meeting with Anuj along with family. He was reticent; almost cut up to the extent that he would not even disclose of the name of his college to him. Anuj’s grandfather explained his behaviour to Takle: he had lost faith in the system and does not trust anyone. “He does not trust media, judiciary, politicians and is suspicious of everyone,” Harkishen Loya’s words resonated in Takle’s mind.

“I took it personally; I wanted to restore the faith of this young man in journalism,” Takle said.

Anuj’s mistrust in media, Takle says, was the trigger for him to do the story. There was no looking back for him; he had to do the story of Judge Loya’s suspicious death and tell the world Journalism is all about truth and facts.

In Nagpur where Judge Loya had died and his body was subjected to post mortem, Takle could lay his hands on reports - post-mortem, histopathology and Forensic report. He found stark inconsistencies in the three with regard to the time and cause of the death; his facts were leading him to something fishy in Judge Loya’s death.

After talking to more concerned persons and experts, Takle cobbled a story and sent it to the Delhi-based weekly, where he was a regular writer. “Takle is not new to fame; he has broken many a stories,” one of his colleagues told the Indian Currents about this passionate journalist with earthy airs about him. 

In February, 2017 he had filed his story but till November it failed to get published. The editors wanted him to speak to Amit Shah, the all-powerful BJP chief, who had been exonerated in the case by the new judge appointed after Loya’s death. “That was impossible.”

“Finally in October, they told me that they are unable to publish the story,” he said. Takle took it as editorial discretion and didn’t question the magazine’s editors.

He finally took his story to the Caravan, a magazine from Delhi Press group that has changed the parameters of Indian print journalism with its coverage of controversial issues and introduction of the long form of writing.

At Caravan, the editors did an independent fact checking of Takle’s story. “I visited Delhi many times to discuss the story,’ he said.

The story was ready but the editors asked the writer to get the family’s version on a video camera. He went to Aurangabad to record the allegations of suspicious death of Loya made by his father and sister.

He recorded their interviews on November 29, 2017 and within a week Anuj had sent a letter to Chief Justice of Maharashtra High Court saying he didn’t suspect any foul play in his father’s death and that he had died of natural causes. “What had happened in this week to make Anuj write that letter; who had convinced him to write it?” asks Niranjan Takle.

Niranjan Takle’s story was published in The Caravan on October 20 issue and this happened to be his 50th birthday. He couldn’t have wished for a better birthday gift.

However, Takle regrets that the media didn’t adequately follow up the story. Loya’s family was firstly disappointed with media’s studied silence on his death and now Television channels are trying to hush up the expose done by Niranjan Takle. So far he says he hasn’t been facing any pressures or direct threats but he is sure his phones are being tapped. “I know I am under surveillance ever since the story was published.”

(Published on 22th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 04)