The legal battle to punish the killers of Indian Oil Corporation sales manager S Manjunath has reached the Supreme Court with three of the six convicts challenging the December 11, 2009 verdict of the Allahabad HC holding them guilty of his murder.
A graduate from IIM-Lucknow, 27-year-old Manjunath was killed on November 19, 2005 after he exposed corruption and oil adulteration racket in Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh. He was shot dead when he reached the petrol pump, owned by prime accused Pawan Kumar alias Monu Mittal, to collect samples of adulterated petrol allegedly being sold from his outlet.
Mittal, whose death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment by the Allahabad High Court, has challenged his conviction. Two other petitions are by convicts Rakesh Anand and Vivek Sharma. In his appeal, he contended that the HC "gravely erred" in upholding his conviction on the basis of a confessional statement made by an accused to the police.
The SC has already issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh Government asking as to why the petitions should not be admitted for hearing. The other convicts in the case are - Devesh Agnihotri, Shiv Kesh Giri and Rajesh Verma.
Terming it a pre-planned murder, Lakhimpur Kheri District and Sessions Judge SMA Abidi had on March 23, 2007 awarded death penalty to Mittal and convict Devesh Agnihotri and life sentence to the other six accused. But the High Court commuted the two capital punishments to life imprisonment, saying these did not fall in the category of "rarest of rare". It also acquitted accused Sanjay Awasthi and Harish Mishra.
After Manjunath's murder, two IIM graduates - Anjali Mulatti and Jaishankar - set up "The Manjunath Shanmugam Trust", to secure justice for Manjunath by getting his killers punished. "We are confident of getting justice from the highest court of the land," Anjali told HT from Mysore.
According to the prosecution, Manjunath had threatened to cancel the licence of Mittal's petrol pump for selling adulterated fuel and that was the motive behind his killing. After killing Manjunath, the accused had placed his body on the rear seat of a car and deputed two of their associates to dispose it of in a canal in Sitapur.
However, a police team on a routine early morning patrol chased the vehicle after noticing the abnormal behaviour of its occupants and intercepted it after a hot pursuit only to recover the bullet-riddled body of Manjunath. The arrest of the two car occupants, led the police to the other accused.