'I saw Mr Sonawane on fire, can't identify his killers'

Manmad, Maharashtra: "I saw my boss on fire...I tried to save him...I can identify those who were there." This is the testimony of Kailash Gawli, who worked as Yashwant Sonawane's driver and was on duty when Mr Sonawane was set on fire by the oil mafia in Manmad in Maharashtra. 

Mr Gawli also confirmed the police theory that Mr Sonawane was burnt alive because he tried to film kerosene being stolen from an oil tanker on his cellphone.

Eleven people have been arrested for Mr Sonawane's murder.

"We saw that some people were mixing kerosene from a tanker...there were other drums also. When my boss saw that, he started shooting from his mobile. Few dhaabha-wale (people at tea stall) called up some people - and after some time, some bikers came ... and I was standing there and someone got kerosene and burnt my boss."

Mr Gawli says he can identify the men who were standing around at the tea stall but did not see the men who set Mr Sonawane on fire. "I didn't see them when they were pouring kerosene, but I saw my boss getting burnt," he says.

Mr Gawli says he left the spot to phone the police to ask for help. He also says that Mr Sonawane did not seem to know the men he was trying to film.  The police has been exploring the theory that the Additional Collector's murderers had interacted with him before, and wanted to punish him because he had tried to interfere earlier with their operations.

Meanwhile, Sonawane's family has demanded a CBI inquiry into the incident.

"This is not an accident; there is a conspiracy behind it. Whoever is behind this should be punished. There should be a CBI enquiry as soon as possible. My husband should get justice", said Vijaya, Yashwant Sonawane's wife. 

In Maharashtra, 15 lakh government officers are on strike today to protest against Mr Sonawane's killing and to ask for better security for themselves. (Read: Top Govt officers on strike in Maharashtra) 

In a direct consequence of Mr Sonawane's murder, close to 250 people have been arrested across Maharashtra this morning for adulterating oil, milk and food items like lentils. A nationwide crackdown on the oil mafia may be on the horizon with newly-appointed Oil Minister Jaipal Reddy calling a meeting to discuss the issue.

The oil mafia in Manmad operates uninhibitedly. This is where nearly 300 tankers are filled everyday with fuel from massive oil depots. Manmad hosts a major intersection of four highways.  From here, oil tankers make their way to Malegaon, Nashik, Aurangabad and Nagar.  Drivers of the tankers are seen brazenly stealing kerosene from the trucks they drive. Tankers are locked after they are filled up, but the mafia has duplicate keys.  Highway robbery is a fact of life.

It was one such operation that Mr Sonawane stumbled upon while on an official tour.  He was reportedly trying to contact other government officers to ask for their help when a group of people poured kerosene all over him near a roadside stall.  The mob was led by Popat Shinde, who allegedly owns two tankers himself, and has been arrested several times in the past few years for stealing kerosene.  (Read: Who is Popat Shinde?)

Mr Shinde was injured in the attack he launched. He is now in a local hospital with serious burns.