On March 26, journalist Sandeep Sharma, 35, was run over by a dumper truck in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind. His family and many fellow journalists in the town alleged that Sharma had been murdered for purportedly exposing how a police officer was conniving with illegal sand mining mafia. The next day, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan recommended an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation, while Superintendent of Police, Bhind, Prashant Khare formed a Special Investigation Team to look into the incident. Nearly a month on, the case is stuck in limbo.

Inspector General of Police, Chambal, Santosh Kumar Singh said on Monday that the Special Investigation Team will continue its work until the CBI takes over. At the central agency, however, senior officials said they have not yet received any orders to take up the case.

On April 11, Khare had agreed to share the Special Investigation Team’s findings with Scroll.in once the clashes between Dalits and upper castes, sparked by the April 2 Bharat Bandh against the dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Atrocities Act by the Supreme Court, were over. The violence left seven Dalit men dead in Madhya Pradesh, four of them in Bhind. Khare never responded to phone calls or text messages after that.

District Magistrate Ilayaraja T claimed he was not “in the loop” about the Special Investigation Team’s findings while Santosh Kumar Singh said the “matter is still under investigation”.

Sharma’s family is becoming despondent about the way the investigation is going, particularly after word spread last week that the Special Investigation Team had concluded his death was an accident. The news, attributed to unidentified police officials, first spread among journalists in Bhind and eventually reached Sharma’s relatives. “We don’t know what to believe and what not,” said Suneeta Sharma, the deceased journalist’s wife.

Suspicious death

Sharma, an independent journalist, had secretly filmed Sub Divisional Police Officer Indra Veer Singh Bhadouria purportedly accepting a bribe of Rs 12,500 to let a truck carry illegally mined sand from the National Chambal Sanctuary. The sting operation was aired by the regional TV news channel News World in October 2017. Soon after, Sharma wrote to senior police officials, complaining that he and his colleague Vikas Purohit, who had helped him with the report, feared for their lives and asked for protection. Bhadouria, the letter alleged, “has links with criminals and strongmen and could implicate us in false cases or even have us murdered and make it appear like an accident”.

Sharma was provided with a guard in late November but, around the same time, the police slapped a case of physical assault on him. Sharma had been assaulted by a group of agitated men while covering a protest by Dalits against upper caste villagers on the outskirts of the town and had to be rescued by the police, Purohit explained. “We were shocked when we found out that Sandeep had been booked in that case,” he said.

In December, Bhadouria was transferred out of Bhind. It was presumed that the action had been taken because of the exposé. Turned out that was not the case: he had named a Congress legislator in an old case without informing the police superintendent. This reason for the officer’s transfer was confirmed by a senior official in the district administration.

Bhind has a vast sand-rich zone along the Sindh river. The zone comes under the jurisdiction of at least five police stations – Lahar, Rawatpura, Raun, Umri and Nayagaon. Senior officials in the police and the district administration admitted that “small gangs” operated in the region but rubbished talk of an organised mafia. Many journalists in Bhind agreed with this view.