The death of a journalist in Maharashtra has triggered shock, anger and demands for an investigation. Shashikant Warishe, 48, was run over at a petrol station in Ratnagiri on Tuesday, a day after he wrote an expose on a controversial refinery project in Konkan. The man allegedly driving the SUV was Pandharinath Amberkar, a land dealer who had featured in his article on Monday.
Mr Warishe died in a hospital. Amberkar, 42, has been arrested and charged with murder. He was initially charged with culpable homicide.
Mr Warishe's Monday article in the Mahanagari Times had described Amberkar as a "criminal" who had been photographed with top leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis.
Amberkar is said to be a supporter of the Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemical project that Shashikant Warishe had written about in a series of articles in Marathi newspapers.
Several media organisations have demanded a probe into Mr Warishe's death, alleging that he was killed because of his stories on the multi-billion-dollar project that has been strongly opposed by many locals over land acquisition.
In a statement last evening, the Mumbai Press Club said the "brutal, public murder" brought to light the "plummeting standards of civil liberties and free speech and brazen attempt by both state and non-state players to crush any media reporting that proves to be inconvenient."
Mr Warishe had written several reports highlighting "the local resistance to a petroleum refinery in Barsu" and had recently pointed out banners where Amberkar featured alongside the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister, the statement said.
"Amberkar, a leader of the local land mafia, was known to threaten and harass those who resisted any land acquisition on behalf of the upcoming refinery," the Mumbai Press Club alleged.
A group of Marathi journalists also met with Devendra Fadnavis, who is Maharashtra's Home Minister, to press for an investigation.
The Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemical project, earlier planned at Nanar village in Ratnagiri district in coastal Konkan, was scrapped before the 2019 national election at the instance of the Shiv Sena, which was then in an alliance with the ruling BJP.
The Centre last year hinted at reviving the project at another site.
Rights organisation People's Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL) has called for a "totally independent" probe "free of any influence" and protection for the journalist's family and witnesses.