It has been called a ‘dhaba’ in every report on the killing of Additional Collector of Malegaon, Yashwant Sonawane.
But the structure — nine km from Manmad town — outside which Sonawane was doused with kerosene burnt alive by the oil mafia, merely looks like a dhaba. No one ever ate there. No food was ever cooked there.
“It was never operational. It was just a front for running the adulteration racket,” said an official involved in the investigations into the killing.
A long wall, high enough to hide a tanker behind it, runs along the back of the so-called dhaba. “It is behind this wall that tankers would be parked and the oil they carried pilfered,” the official added.
He showed this reporter a room at the back of the dhaba. It still smelt of petroleum. The walls and floor were dark with oil stains.
“This is where the pilfered oil was stored and adulterated,” he said. “The oil drums that were kept here have all been removed.”
Sonawane, 46, was set on fire and killed on Tuesday when he spotted some men at the dhaba adulterating petrol with kerosene, and tried to stop them. Eleven people have been arrested so far for the crime.
The spot where Sonawane was burnt is still blackened. It is an open space, but lies concealed behind the wall.
“This perhaps explains why, despite the dhaba being barely 10 metres off the highway, the mafia dared to set him on fire, confident no one would intervene,” said the official.
The dhaba’s ownership too is not clear. “We are not sure about the ownership but it was being managed and run by Popat Shinde, the prime accused,” said Ajay Misar, public prosecutor in the case.
B G Wagh, chief executive officer with the local zilla parishad, who was present when this reporter visited the scene said Sonawane had been a friend of his.
“ He was a good man. He was never vindictive. All the cases he pursued were justified,” Wagh told HT.