Rajapur police have arrested Pandarinath Amberkar, the land dealer who callously mowed down journalist Shashikant Warishe, under Sec 302 (Punishment for murder.—Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or [imprisonment for life], and shall also be liable to fine) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) after pressure from local activists.
He has been remanded to 14-days police custody.
Police had earlier said that charges under Sec 304 of the IPC (Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) would be applied. Amberkar, who was absconding after he ran over Warishe in broad daylight in the Rajapur haghway on February 6, 2023. Warishe succumbed to his injuries a day later.
Meanwhile, several journalists’ organisations issued statements condemning the killing and demanded an impartial investigation, free of any kind of political interference.
The Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh (MMPS), in a letter to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, said that killing of the journalist was a blot on Maharashtra’s traditions and the crime deserved the most stringent punishment.
The Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ), in a statement, condemned the killing and demanded a swift and thorough investigation. The BUJ is concerned that Amberkar could use his considerable local political influence to get off the hook.
In another development, the President of the Maharashtra Vidhimandal Vartahar Sangh Kiran Naik, met Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis about the incident and the latter promised to look into the matter.
The People’s Union of Civil Liberties (Maharashtra) has demanded a thorough investigation into the incident and pointed out that the killing of the journalist comes in the wake of major violations of the civil liberties with the ongoing agitation of residents over the location of the Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemical Ltd in the eco-sensitive zone in Rajapur taluka of Ratnagiri district.
In a statement, the organisation said that the project was scrapped in Nanar but shifted to Barsu-Solgaon villages barely 20 kms away. The local residents have continued to raise a voice against the destruction of the environment and expressed grave apprehensions of pollution due to the mega-crore refinery.
Several FIRs have been filed against residents who have been peacefully protesting against the project. Externment notices have been issued against members of the Refinery Virodhi Sanghatana whereas no action has been taken against the goons engaged by the company. Repression in the area has greatly increased with the locals not even being allowed to hold peaceful meetings. The Gram Panchayats of the area have issued several resolutions protesting against the high handedness of the authorities but to no avail.
“PUCL (Maharashtra) believes that the killing of the journalist is designed to silence and intimidate all those who dare to speak up and to uncover the intimidation and land-grab that has been going on in the name of acquisition of land for the project,” the statement said.
In addition, PUCL (Maharashtra) demanded that:
- The Police conduct a speedy and impartial investigation into the killing of Shashikant Warishe.
- The Police prosecute the accused Pandharinath Amberkar and any others found involved for the murder of Shashikant Warishe and that strict punishment be awarded to the perpetrators.
- The Maharashtra government ensure that no attempt is made to politically influence the investigation.
- The Maharashtra government announce adequate compensation to the family of deceased journalist Shashikant Warishe.
- The authorities ensure safety of the family members of Shahikant Warishe and grant protection to the witnesses in the case.
- All land acquisition process for the refinery be stopped immediately and that the criminal action including FIRs and externment proceedings initiated against the local residents / protestors be taken back immediately.
- The government desist from setting up or allowing polluting industries that endanger the ecosystem of the Konkan.