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TOI reports:

An additional collector was burnt alive on Tuesday afternoon in Manmad, near Malegaon, on Tuesday when he tried to call other government officials to the scene of a fuel theft. The perpetrators doused Yashwant Sonawane (44) with kerosene and set him afire in scenes that sent shockwaves across the state.

Sonawane was found dead in a field from severe burns. But before dying he clung on to one of his attackers, Popat Shinde, making it impossible for him to flee. Shinde sustained 80% burns and is critical. He has been arrested with four others.

The gruesome killing led to home minister R R Patil ordering an immediate crackdown on the fuel mafia across the state. CM Prithviraj Chavan ordered an inquiry into the incident. He also announced a Rs 25 lakh payment to the family, payment of his salary till retirement and other compensation. Furious gazetted officers plan a strike on Thursday. Deputy CM Ajit Pawar called it a blot on humanity.

Sonawane had gone to Chandvad, where farmers had been agitating, and was proceeding towards Nandgaon when he spotted oil pilferage at Panewadi village in Manmad taluka, said Nashik divisional commissioner Jayant Gaikwad.

The place has oil depots of major companies like HPCL, BPCL and IOC. When he saw the theft outside the shop of Popat Shinde, he took video footage on his cellphone and also called local officials for a raid.”

Sonawane`s cell phone, with the video, is now with the police. The tanker from which the kerosene was being pilfered has been seized.

The additional director-general of police (law and order) said Shinde, his son Kunal, brother-in-law Sitaram Bhalerao and their aide Raju Shirsat have been arrested for the murder.

In the caste-conscious state of Maharashtra, the report from HT raises questions:

A Dalit from a small hamlet called Lakhmapur in Nashik district, Sonawane entered the bureaucracy with a drive to help his people.

He started off as a clerk in Mantralaya in 1988. He studied for the state civil services exams and managed to clear them in 1990, after which he was appointed deputy collector.

On January 26, 1950 the Indian constitution came into force. The adoption of the constitution was meant to guarantee rule of the law to a newly independent country. That rule of law seems to be on the retreat, with successive governments accused of murder and theft, police commissioners accused of murders and abetting of suicide, the quiet laying to rest of prosecutions by shoddy investigation or long delays in court. Most importantly, criminals think they can operate with impunity because they have backers at the highest levels of the government. The present government of Bihar has successfully turned the tide. Can Maharashtra?

Jan 28, 2011

In the days after the murder of Yashwant Sonawane by the “oil mafia”, speculations about the collusion of politicians in the illegal trade are rife. Mumbai Mirror reported:

Two circulars dated March 8, 2004 and January 24, 2011 issued by State Food & Civil Supplies department, will haunt the Democratic Front government in the backdrop of the brutal killing of additional collector Yashwant Sonawane.

While the first one restricted the Police from carrying out drives against adulteration in petroleum products, the other one took away the State’s powers to check transportation of furnace oil.

The first circular clearly states that no police officer below the rank of a deputy superintendent can carry out searches to check irregularities in petroleum products.

Also, the authorised officer will have to take officials from Food & Civil Supplies department into confidence and take them along for the raids.

In a separate report, Mumbai Mirror alleged:

One of the biggest oil mafia families in the region, headed by one Sainath Gedge, is known to be very close to the NCP. Police sources say the Gedges actually helped a senior NCP leader’s son win Assembly elections from a constituency in the region.

The leader, ironically, had announced in election rallies at that time that strict action would be taken against oil mafias. A member of the Gedge family is also a corporator from the same region.

Shinde too boasted of political connections in his heydays. “When he was externed in 2006 for a year, he managed to get it cancelled within a week and was back in business,” said a Manamad police officer.

Inexplicable delays and inaction are also highlighted in a report by NDTV:

Days after the brutal killing of Additional Collector Yashwant Sonawane, more evidence has surfaced to show that no action was taken against Popat Shinde, the prime accused in his murder, despite a detailed report given by Sonawane.

The report, prepared by Sonawane in August 2010, said the police should take action against Shinde under Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA). He filed the report after he conducted raids on Shinde around six months ago.

If true, this is exactly a failure of the state and the constitution. This is the kind of thing that Bihar has successfully controlled. Maharashtra is years behind.

Jan 31, 2011

TOI reports:

Popat Shinde, the main accused in the burning of Nashik district’s additional collector Yashwant Sonawane in Malegaon, succumbed to his burns at the J J Hospital here Monday afternoon, said a senior hospital official.

“Shinde was declared dead at 1.10pm after he succumbed to more than 70 per cent burns,” dean of the hospital T P Lahane said.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

January 26, 2011 at 3:26 am

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