In a brazen act, an additional district collector was on Tuesday burnt alive in broad daylight at a roadside eatery at Manmad in Maharashtra's Nashik district by the local mafia during raids to uncover the illegal hoarding of kerosene and petrol.
Additional District Collector Yashwant Sonawane, 42, a Maharashtra-cadre officer, was accompanied by his personal assistant and driver when the shocking incident took place at the Sagar Dhaba at Panewadi town in Manmad, nearly 260 km from Mumbai.
Four persons, including main suspect Popat Shinde, have been arrested for the gruesome killing, police said. Shinde, who set Sonawane on fire, has been admitted to the Manmad hospital with serious burn injuries. Besides Shinde, those arrested were Gulabh Shinde, Sitaram Balerao and Raju.
Giving details of the incident, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) K P Raghuvanshi said Sonawane had spotted a person taking out fuel from a parked oil tanker and questioned him.
As the man fled from the spot, Sonawane immediately called the supply inspector to the spot to investigate. As he waited, some people came on motorcycles and started beating him up. Shinde, helped by his son, nephew and another person, then poured kerosene on Sonawane and torched him, Raghuvanshi said. Television images showed Sonawane's body lying in an open field.
"Sonawane had gone there to conduct a raid on the petrol and diesel mafia," he said.
The Nashik police said state revenue officials, headed by Sonawane, had conducted raids at the oil depots at Manmad's Panewadi town on Monday night, which irked those allegedly adulterating oil.
Mahrashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said his government will not tolerate such incidents. "We will take prompt action to bring the guilty to justice," he said. His deputy Ajit Pawar, who is on a visit to Satara district in western Maharashtra, said the incident was a blot on humanity." If anyone dares to commit such atrocity on an officer, he should be dealt with sternly," he said. "When I took charge, I had asked police officers to take action to ensure people live in peace," he added.
"He was a very, very good officer," Deputy Collector Sarika Naik said, adding such shocking incidents affect the morale of the officers in the discharge of their duties.
Food and Civil Supplies Minister Anil Deshmukh said the government will unearth the adulteration racket and take action against those behind the dastardly killing. Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat said the attack on an officer of his department was reprehensible. "We will not hesitate to apply provisions of MCOCA against the culprits," he said.
Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly Eknath Khadse said administrative officers should get protection. They should get police protection while carrying out raids so that they can go about their job without fear, he said.
"We will take up the issue with the government and compel it to take necessary steps. The petrol mafia has the tacit support of the government," he alleged.
Public Works Department Minister Chhagan Bhujbal said he had spoken to the Nashik collector and directed him to take prompt action to nab those behind the killing. Meanwhile, the Maharashtra Gazetted Officers Federation has called for a day-long strike on January 27 to protest the killing.
G V Kulthe, general secretary of the federation, said other unions will join the federation members in staging a massive protest against the gruesome incident.