Police on Monday said they have arrested three persons, including son of a local village pradhan, in connection with the death of a journalist and his friend at Kalwari village in Balrampur district of Uttar Pradesh two days ago.
Rakesh Singh Nirbhik (37), who worked for Hindi daily Rashtriya Swaroop and his friend Mithilesh Sahu (Pintu), 35, died of burn injuries in a fire at Nirbhik’s house on Friday night.
Police said the village pradhan’s son, Keshwanand Mishra alias Rinku and one Lalit Mishra allegedly took the help of pyrotechnic expert Akram Ali to set Nirbhik’s house on fire. The journalist’s wife and his two children were at a relative’s place that night.
According to police, Rinku’s motive to kill Nirbhik was his reportage against his mother and village pradhan, Sushila Devi, ahead of the panchayat elections in the state. Lalit, police said, had enmity with Pintu.
“A few days ago, Pintu had sold his car to Lalit but a dispute arose as Pintu alleged that Lalit paid him Rs 2.5 lakh less than the agreed amount. On Friday, the two had an argument at a beer shop. After Pintu started feeling dizzy, he went to Nirbhik’s house. Lalit went to his associate Akram… The other end of the thread is connected to Nirbhik, who used to write against village pradhan, Sushila Devi, which did not go well with her family,” Balrampur SP Dev Ranjan Verma said.
“During our investigation, we found that on Friday morning, Rinku spoke to Nirbhik over the phone five times and called him 22 times. All the call logs were deleted by him. The same night, Rinku visited Nirbhik’s house where he tried to convince him to stop writing adverse stories against his mother. Pintu was also there. They drank alcohol and when Nirbhik and Pintu passed out, Rinku allegedly called Lalit and Akram. Akram also had an old enmity with Nirbhik. Last year, the two had an argument and the matter was resolved by local police,” he added.
According to police, Akram has a criminal past with cases of murder and arson against him. He is considered an expert in pyrotechnic. Police said Akram, who worked at a sugar mill and had access to alcohol-based sanitiser, allegedly poured the liquid on Nirbhik and Pintu and set them on fire. The three then bolted the door from outside to make it look like an accident, said police.
“Earlier, it was speculated that explosives were used to cause the fire, but our investigation found no trace of explosives. The gas cylinder in the kitchen did not explode. Nirbhik’s room is small and everything made of glass should have shattered with the impact of an explosion. The screens of two computers in the room were completely intact,” said Verma.
“The incident is a clear case of arson and there was no explosion. A wall in the room collapsed as it was quite weak, and had a split air-conditioned attached to it, making it weaker,” the SP added.
The SHO of Kotwali Dehat police station, Ramashankar Singh, said that for the past one year, Nirbhik had been writing against the pradhan, alleging corruption in construction of roads, sewage and installation of solar panels.
Police sources said Nirbhik was planning to contest against the pradhan in the upcoming panchayat polls. His wife, Vibha, was planning to contest the Zilla Panchayat elections, they said.
SP Verma said that though Nirbhik, in a video statement before his death, named Rinku’s brother Babu, police are yet to question him in detail as Babu, who suffers from a heart ailment, was admitted at a hospital at the time of the incident. “We are still investigating the case. More persons could be arrested they are found involved,” the SP added.
On Sunday, UP government handed over a cheque of Rs 5 lakh to Nirbhik’s wife and said it would give her a job and bear educational expenses of the two children.