A car accident that left one dead in Lucknow in October may not have initially grabbed many headlines, but a correspondent of News18 India has resigned following a controversy over the incident, according to sources.
Thirty-five-year-old Vishal Balecha was killed when a black Ford Endeavour, registered at the Lucknow RTO in the name of Satish Kumar Singh, the uncle of journalist Ajit Singh, allegedly hit his motorcycle in Alambagh as he was on his way home in the early hours of October 27.
A video and photos of the car and the motorcycle were widely circulated on social media. Visiting cards of Ajit Singh, a correspondent of News18 India, and a news channel mic ID were found inside the SUV.
On the basis of a complaint from the victim’s cousin, an FIR was filed against “car driver and unidentified persons”.
The victim belonged to the Sindhi community, whose representatives have also accused the police of inaction owing to the journalist’s “clout”.
“The police have helped Ajit Singh’s son flee from the scene because of his clout. Also, despite having the information about the accused, no case has been registered against him,” wrote the Bharatiya Sindhu Sabha to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
In a letter to the UP CM, representatives of the Sindhi community raised questions over the police probe.
The victim’s cousin, Mukesh Kumar, has also raised questions over the FIR being filed against unidentified persons.
Kumar told Newslaundry that “eyewitnesses say there were three people in the car when the accident occurred”. “But when we arrived, there was no one in the vehicle...three bottles of liquor, one pistol and a stick were found in the car...The (car’s) owner is the uncle of Ajit Singh...but still the police have registered the FIR against unidentified person/persons. Why is that?”
Police have called Satish Kumar Singh’s driver for questioning.
Krishna Nagar SHO Alok Rai told Newslaundry, “We didn’t find anything inside the car. When the police arrived at the scene, there was no one inside the Endeavor car. The police have called the car driver for questioning because of the application against him in the FIR.”
On being asked about the visiting cards or whether Singh has been questioned, SHO Rai said, “This can be found with anyone. Maybe his card was taken by the driver. He has not been questioned.”
The SHO said, “Raj Bahadur Singh, the constable who was investigating this case initially, was transferred. Now the case has been given to Alok Srivastav. But he is on leave right now...This matter is clear, there’s nothing left in it.”
Sources in News18 India confirmed that Ajit Singh has resigned over the incident. Newslaundry could not confirm the same with Ajit Singh.
Kishore Ajwani, Managing Editor, News18 India, did not respond to requests for comment.
Requesting anonymity, a journalist working for a Lucknow-based newspaper told Newslaundry, “This incident was suppressed. Even journalists in Lucknow aren’t aware of this.”
Who was at the wheel?
Was Ajit Singh present on the spot? “He wasn’t in the car,” said a journalist working for News18 UP. Another local reporter reiterated the same.
“The car is in the name of Ajit’s uncle, but Ajit uses the car... His son was driving the car that day. The driver was sitting next to him and another friend of his was also inside. They were driving on the wrong side of the road,” alleged a journalist working for a prominent Lucknow daily.
Who is Ajit Singh?
Singh, a correspondent at the Lucknow bureau of News18 India is from Ambedkar Nagar, and has been in the news media sector for 10-15 years. He used to work as a stringer before he came to Lucknow, according to those familiar with his antecedents. It was then that he came in contact with then Gorakhpur MP and current CM Yogi Adityanath, and his career took off, they claimed.
“Ajit Singh came to Lucknow in 2017,” said a journalist at News18 India. “News18 didn’t have any correspondent in the city at the time, so he became the channel’s Lucknow correspondent. He can be seen in all government events because he has influence there.”
Singh has posted many pictures of him with Adityanath on his Facebook profile. In one of the photos, the correspondent and his daughter can be seen with the former Gorakhpur MP.
‘Clout, business interests’
“A lobby of Rajput journalists got into action after the accident to save Ajit Singh’s son. They didn’t let his name be added to the FIR by putting pressure on the police station concerned...police have registered the FIR against ‘unknown persons’ under pressure,” alleged a journalist working for NBT Lucknow.
The letter from the Sindhi community to the chief minister accuses some senior officers and a few people working in the CM’s office of having business relations with Singh and helping him in every possible way.
Ajit Singh has mentioned on his Facebook profile that his daughter studies in London while his son goes to a college in Lucknow.
“Ajit Singh comes from a fairly affluent family. His family members are contractors in Ambedkar Nagar,” said an independent journalist.
Among the contracts awarded to a firm in the name of the journalist's son.
Another journalist from Lucknow told Newslaundry, “Actually Ajit Singh started working as a contractor after 2017. Due to his approach, he gets help from the CM office in getting a lot of contracts in Ambedkar Nagar.”
Singh started his construction business in the name of his son. According to the documents seen by Newslaundry, Vaibhav Constructions has received several contracts for road construction; from Pratappur Kalan in Ambedkar Nagar district to Navanagar in Ballia, Sarfuddinpur to Narayanpur, Sarfuddinpur to Fulwaria, Parsoli to Harijan Basti and the Saidpur-Rasidpur link road. These were approved on March 20, 2021. The company also got many tenders on March 9, 2021.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Ajit Singh said, “I have nothing to do with that incident. Neither was my son in the car nor is it mine. This is a really old matter.”
He said, “I was at Akhilesh Yadav’s rally in Mau that day. This matter is being raised to malign my image.” Asked about his son, Singh said, “It has nothing to do with my son either. He is being unnecessarily embroiled.”
The call was then disconnected and never answered again.
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