A day after Sudip Datta Bhowmik (52), a senior reporter with Syandan Patrika, was shot, allegedly by a constable of the 2nd Tripura State Rifles (TSR), his editor claimed that he was killed because he had written a series of reports on “financial irregularities and corruption cases” involving TSR Commandant Tapan Debbarma. According to the police, Bhowmik had also reported on Debbarma’s “extramarital affair”.
“He was called by Tapan Debbarma, the 2nd TSR Commandant, and murdered in cold blood. Sudip’s only crime was that he had exposed a number of financial irregularities and corruption cases in which Debbarma was involved,” alleged Subal Kumar Dey, editor and owner of Syandan Patrika.
Debbarma, a senior Tripura Police Service (TPS) officer (1998-batch) waiting for an IPS nomination, was arrested on Wednesday morning. He and his personal guard, Nanda Reang, who was arrested on Tuesday, have been sent to 10 days police custody. Both have been charged under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC, read with Section 27 of the Arms Act. “In recent months, Sudip had written at least three detailed reports about financial irregularities committed by Debbarma in the 2nd TSR. Bhowmik’s reports said Debbarma was involved in irregularities to the tune of about Rs 10 crore,” said Dey. “Debbarma’s IPS nomination did not come through because of our reports,” he claimed.
DIG (Southern Range), Tripura, Arindam Nath, who is heading the Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up to probe Bhowmik’s death, said they would look into his reports on Debbarma. “Bhowmik wrote a number of reports in Syandan Patrika about some corruption cases involving Debbarma. On September 20, he wrote a report about the officer’s alleged extramarital affair,” said Nath.
Dey said that Bhowmik had called him up on Tuesday to inform him that Debbarma had called him for an interview. “Sudip told me he got a call from Debbarma, who wanted to meet him in connection with his reports, and sought my permission. I told him to go, and also told him to record their conversation, apart from making notes. A couple of hours later, I got a call from a senior police officer who told me something had happened to Sudip when he went to meet the commandant,” said Dey, speaking to The Indian Express at Bhowmik’s funeral at the city crematorium here on Wednesday afternoon.
Dey said he sent another reporter, Tipu Sultan, to the 2nd TSR Battalion headquarters at R K Nagar, about 20 km from here. Sultan found Bhowmik’s motorcycle outside the gate of the battalion headquarters, but was reportedly denied entry into the compound. “I too rushed to R K Nagar, and, as more journalists arrived, we forcibly entered the commandant’s office compound, only to be told that Bhowmik was shot when he was trying to flee after an altercation with the officer,” said Dey.
“While a junior officer took us to a spot about 200 metres away from the commandant’s office, and told us that Bhowmik was killed there by an armed personal bodyguard of the officer when he was trying to flee, I could see bloodstains on the door of Debbarma’s office. Though it was around 2:30 pm when I reached there, I saw that the floor of Debbarma’s office had been freshly mopped, as also the pathway leading to his office. He must have been killed inside the office, and then dragged out to the open field to make it look like he was fleeing,” alleged Dey.
“His mobile phone and notebook are missing. His identity card and wallet, however, were intact. The officer must have snatched them away because he was recording as well as taking down notes,” he alleged. While the post-mortem report is awaited, Dey claimed that he had noticed bruises on Bhowmik’s elbows when the body was brought to the GB Hospital here. “I noticed injury marks which appeared to have occurred when his body was dragged out to the field after he was shot. There were two holes in his stomach caused by bullets fired on him from close range,” Dey claimed.
Dey said that while Bhowmik had gone to meet the officer at around 11:30 am, his body was brought to the GB Hospital by some TSR personnel at around 2:30 pm. “Four TSR personnel left immediately after dropping the body at the GB Hospital at around 2:30 pm,” he said. DIG Nath said Bhowmik had entered Debbarma’s office at around 11:45 pm, and though the meeting began on a cordial note, something happened in between. “While the officer later claimed that an envelope with something valuable in it went missing from his table when he went to the washroom during their meeting, Bhowmik was either searched or pushed out of the office. Bhowmik apparently tried to run away, and the personal guard allegedly shot him,” he said.
“The veracity of the officer’s claim, however, has not been considered at face value, and he has been arrested for abetment in the offence leading to the death of the journalist,” said Nath. Dey said Bhowmik had been working with Syandan Patrika for the last four years, and, as the chief investigative and crime reporter, had exposed corruption in several government offices.
This is the second instance of a journalist being killed in Tripura in two months. On September 20, Shantanu Bhaumik, a reporter with Din-Raat, a local TV cable news channel, was killed by a mob while covering a clash between supporters of the CPI(M) and Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) at Mandai, about 40 km from Agartala, allegedly in the presence of police. While police arrested a few members of the IPFT and constituted a Special Investigation Team, journalists have been demanding that the case be handed over to the CBI.