Sonawane murder: Crackdown on oil mafia

Mumbai/New Delhi: Authorities launched a massive crackdown on oil adulteration mafia across Maharashtra on Thursday raiding 200 places and arresting around 180 people after an official was burnt alive while the Centre unveiled steps to reduce scope for diversion of subsidised kerosene.

Over 80,000 gazetted officers in Maharashtra also ceased work for the day to protest the killing of Malegaon Additional District Collector Yashwant Sonawane by suspected members of the oil mafia at Manmad in Nashik district, about 260 kms from Mumbai, on Tuesday.

"So far, more than 180 persons have been arrested during the raids at nearly 200 oil adulteration locations in the state," Additional Director General (Law & Order) K P Raghuvanshi said in Mumbai.

The new Petroleum Minister S Jaipal Reddy unveiled steps including re-introduction of a chemical marker in kerosene in six months to eliminate the scope for adulteration of diesel using this subsidised fuel.

He also suggested that states use GPS-based vehicular tracking system for trucks transporting petrol and diesel to track the movement, any route deviations being taken or long stoppages.

Condemning as "heinous" the killing of Sonawane, Reddy urged Maharashtra government to take stringent steps to see that all those involved are punished in a proper way. "We express complete solidarity with the bereaved family."

Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil said the "might" of the oil mafia is increasing day by day. "Those who are involved will not be spared and will be given the highest punishment," he said in Mumbai.

Patil said police haven`t come across name of any politician during investigations into the crime.

"We have not come across any politician`s name in our investigation. Allegations about NCP leaders being involved have not come to me. If I am given proof, I will take stern action," Patil said.

Patil`s statement came after state PWD minister Chhagan Bhujbal yesterday lashed out at the opposition for blaming him for the killing of Sonawane.

"Raids (against the mafia) have started since last night and 163 people have been arrested. All district police have been given instructions to find out details from the food and drug department. We will crack down on oil, milk and sand mafia," he said

Ravindra Dhongade, president of the Maharashtra Gazetted Officers Mahasangh, said "We have not announced the protest as a strike but we are shunning work to register our protest against this gruesome act which has shaken the government employees."

The Shiv Sena has also called for a bandh in Manmad in Nashik district today to protest Sonawane`s killing.

At Mantralaya, government employees held a protest meeting.

Dhongade said the officers are shaken by the murder and lower-level officers would also join the protest. "Protest marches will be taken out across the state. Employees will join immediately after registering their attendance," he said.

"We learnt with shock about the heinous killing of Additonal Collector Yashwant Sonawane. He died a martyr to the cause of anti-adulteration drive," Reddy told reporters in New Delhi.

Announcing an ex-gratia of Rs 25 lakh to the family of Sonawane, he said the responsibility of distribution of subsidised kerosene through the Public Distribution System (PDS) rests with state governments and it was their duty to see that subsidised fuel is not diverted for adulteration.

"This incident has once again highlighted the problem of kerosene being used for adulteration. There is a need to respond to the problem in systematic term," Reddy said.

Reddy said an improved chemical marker will be doped in kerosene to make its mixing with diesel near impossible.

"The kerosene marker system (which was in 2009 withdrawn) will be reintroduced in next six months," he said.

The government had in 2006 introduced a dye sourced from US firm Authentix in kerosene but was withdrawn in 2009 pending toxology tests.

"It(GPS) is an effective tool in warding off incidents of pilferage and diversion leading to adulteration which may taken place during the period of untracked transporation," he said, adding oil companies would provide technological and institutional support to the state governments for installing GPS on tank trucks transporting kerosene.

Besides, oil companies will provide online realtime information on loading of kerosene trucks, quantity and time of departure from their depots so that state authorities can check any route diversion, he said.

Once kerosene trucks leave oil company depots, they make unscheduled stoppages where the fuel is pilfered and what state civil supplies department receive is much less and often diluted quantities of kerosene.

Eleven persons have been arrested in connection with the murder while the main accused Popat Shinde, suspected to have had set the Collector on fire, has been admitted in state-run J J hospital in Mumbai with severe burn injuries.

Shinde`s condition is serious and he has been kept under observation, doctors at the hospital said.

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