Sandeep Sharma (36), an investigative journalist who worked for a regional news channel, was crushed to death by a dumper truck used in mining on Monday morning in Bhind district of Madhya Pradesh.
According to an FIR filed by his relative who was witness to the incident, the incident occurred around 9 am. Sharma was reportedly riding his motorcycle when the truck came speeding from behind, knocked him off the bike, and crushed him under the wheels before speeding away.
Sharma had recently exposed an illegal sand mining nexus between the police and the sand mafia in the area and had claimed that he was on the hit-list of the mafia. Sharma, who worked for News World, had written a letter to the superintendent of police of Bhind district asking for protection, as he felt there was an imminent threat to his life from a sub-divisional officer of the police (SDOP) against whom he had carried out a “sting operation”.
He also sent copies of the letter to the Prime Minister, the Madhya Pradesh (MP) chief minister, the director general of police of MP, and the Human Rights Commission. This writer has a copy of the letter, written in Hindi, as well as a copy of the FIR filed by his relative after his death.
In the letter, Sharma explained that on July 27, 2017, he had conducted a sting operation at the official residence of SDOP Indravir Singh Bhadauria in Ater, Bhind, that established the latter’s involvement in illegal sand mining. The sting operation was telecast on News World on October 25, 2017. Since then, Bhadauria had been looking for a chance to take revenge, he alleged.
While demanding security cover from the police, Sharma stated that since the exposé, he felt that his and his family members’ lives were under threat from the influential sand mafia. Saying that he had a fair understanding of the modus operandi of the sand mafia in the area, Sharma wrote that the SDOP had employed anti-social elements to either get him murdered in an “accident” or to implicate him in some false criminal case.
Sharma pleaded that the SDOP be removed from his post as he was influential enough to cause harm to him and his family. He also urged the police to investigate the veracity of his allegations in the letter and asked them to initiate legal proceedings against the SDOP accordingly. The letter ended with Sharma saying that in case any harm came to him, Bhadauria would be “completely responsible” for it. He wrote the letter in conjunction with his friend and fellow journalist Vikas Purohit, who too was involved in conducting the exposé.
Sharma’s letter also said that Bhadauria was posted in his home district, Bhind, where he had a lot of local connections, especially with criminal elements. He added that the SDOP was excavating sand worth lakhs of rupees from the Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary, and that Bhadauria had been able to secure a posting in his home district because of political clout and had formed an organised group involved in crimes like murder, loot and dacoity.
Purohit, a very close friend of Sharma, is in shock. He said he too was part of the sting operation and now he fears more for his life. “Even I had pleaded for police protection. No action has been taken till now. It’s really hard to continue with my work and daily life under such circumstances. My parents are now worried about me; I really don’t know what to do next,” he said.
“Sandeep was a daring and shy person. He came up with illegal sand mining activity in Chambal region and conducted a sting operation where a DSP-rank official, Indravir Bhadauria, was seen accepting bribe on camera. We ran the story first and that was followed by other channels later. But no action was taken against the police officer,” said Rizwan Siddiqui, Editor-in-Chief of News World. “It is unfortunate that despite all efforts we couldn’t save Sandeep.”
Sandeep’s letter to the police.
Parents in shock after losing second son
Sharma had started his career as a stringer and had worked for newspapers like Dainik Bhaskar and Patrika, said Purohit. The exposé on illegal sand mining in the region was his claim to fame. His sting operation was later followed up by well-known publications and news channels.
His elder brother, Santosh Sharma, a CRPF personnel, was killed in an ambush about four years ago, said Purohit. Santosh too was about the same age when he was killed. Their father Jairam Sharma and mother Narayani Devi are in a state of deep shock and are unable to react to their son’s death. The only thing his father could say was that what he feared had happened. Sharma is survived by his wife, Sunita, and two children, Rishabh (13) and Abhay (8).
The Bhind superintendent of police, Prashant Khare, avoided the media till late afternoon on Monday and came out only in the evening to announce that a special investigative team (SIT) had been formed to probe the “accident” in which Sharma was killed. “We have formed an SIT to probe the death. It was unfortunate and the culprits will be nabbed soon,” said Khare. He avoided all other questions.
Police call it an ‘accident’
Though the police and administration are claiming the incident was an “accident”, video footage circulated on social media shows Sharma’s bike going at a very slow speed on the left of the road. The truck, which came from behind, made a sharp left turn and hit the bike-borne journalist, later crushing him under its wheels. The spot was hardly 50 metre from the police station.
Copy of the FIR.
The incident drew sharp reactions from scribes. Former district president of the Working Journalists’ Union, Ganesh Bharadwaj, said the community is in shock and has decided to hold a meeting on Tuesday on the matter. “We are planning to demand a judicial probe into this. We will also demand a fair compensation – about Rs 10 lakh – for Sharma’s wife from the district administration,” said Bharadwaj.
Various political parties, including the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party, held demonstrations in the state capital, Bhopal, demanding a law for the protection of journalists and a CBI probe into the case. In Gwalior, several journalists took out a candlelight march to express solidarity with Sharma’s family and demanded action.
Bhind and Morena in MP are notorious for illegal sand mining. An IPS officer was mowed down by a tractor carrying illegal sandstone in Morena a few years ago.
(The story has been authored by Shahroz Afridi, a Bhopal-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)