Ratnagiri: A 48-year-old journalist, Shashikant Warishe, based in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, was crushed to death by a vehicle driven allegedly by Pandharinath Amberkar, a local real estate dealer. According to initial reports from the police, who have arrested Amberkar, they suspect Warishe had been targeted because of his coverage of issues related to the establishment of Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (RRPCL), media reports said.
Local media reports said that Amberkar has been accused in cases of land-grabbing and intimidating activists who were opposing the mega refinery project in Barsu area of Ratnagiri.
Warishe had written an article in the Mahanagari Times, a local Marathi daily, about public banners that posted photographs of Amberkar standing with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
The story was published on February 6 headlined: “Photo of criminal on banner alongside PM, CM and DCM…”
Warishe’s report provided details of Amberkar’s criminal record and his alleged involvement in multiple illegal land deals and blatant support towards building the refinery.
According to reports and Dhananjay Kulkarni, the Ratnagiri Superintendent of Police, witnesses saw Amberkar driving an SUV into Warishe, who was riding a two-wheeler. Amberkar fled the spot but was later nabbed by the police. While details of the First Information Report (FIR) are yet to be made public, the police said that Amberkar will be in custody until February 14. Warishe was rushed to hospital but succumbed to his injuries a day later.
Photographs of the mangled two-wheeler went viral, upsetting locals and activists, who are demanding a proper investigation.
In a strongly worded statement, the Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ) said that Warishe’s death was a “brazen broad daylight murder”. On the refinery issue, the BUJ said: “The area has been the site of intense agitation over the Nanar refinery where local agriculturists have been staunchly opposing the project as they fear it will destroy the environment, besides their lives and livelihood. While the MVA Government scrapped the project, the project was shifted to Barsu-Salgaon, 20 km away from Nanar. However, opposition from local groups has continued.”
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Maharashtra, released a statement saying: “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.”
Congress chief spokesperson Atul Londhe, Shiv Sena-UBT national spokesperson Kishore Tiwari, BUJ’s Indra Kumar Jain and PUCL’s Mihir Desai and Lara Jesani have strongly condemned what they suspect is a “well-planned murder” of the activist-journalist.
Londhe said that ever since the government of Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis came to power in June 2022, attacks on media persons doing their jobs are increasing in Maharashtra undermining the independence of the fourth pillar of democracy.
“The killing of a journalist like this is an atrocious attack on democracy and a blot on a progressive and tolerant state like Maharashtra. Law and order has deteriorated under the Shinde-Fadnavis regime. Ruling party MLAs fire guns openly, threaten to beat up people, assault officials, beat up principals, etc,” he said.