Sandeep Sharma, a reporter for the local News World television channel in Madhya Pradesh state's Bhind district, was killed on March 26, 2018. He was driving on his motorbike to a government event when a truck veered into him and ran him over, according to the channel’s bureau chief, Vikas Purohit, who witnessed the collision, and a report by NDTV. Purohit told CPJ that he took Sharma to the local hospital where the journalist was declared dead from injuries sustained in the crash.
Purohit said both he and Sharma began receiving death threats last year after publishing two stories in July and October 2017 on alleged police corruption and illegal sand mining. The journalists shot a video that showed how a senior police officer accepted a bribe to allow the movement of vehicles carrying illegally mined sand, according to a report in the Indian Express newspaper. With strong demand for construction in India, illegal sand mining has increasingly become a problem because sand is difficult to transport and "regulatory consequences are minimal" for extracting it from off-limits areas, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
Purohit said local residents came to him and Sharma and said they would “crush them under a truck” for doing the stories. The villagers would also pass by the house when the journalists were home to intimidate them, Purohit said.
Prashant Khare, the Bhind police superintendent, told CPJ that police were examining CCTV footage and that they had arrested the truck driver who hit Sharma. “A special investigation team has been formed to investigate whether this was an accident or it was a murder,” Khare said.
Purohit told CPJ that about 10 days after News World aired Sharma's October investigation, the journalist was "beaten up by a bunch of goons but was saved thanks to the presence of police." He said the thugs they didn’t specifically mention the report. According to Purohit, Sharma filed a formal complaint to the police about the beating, but they did not take further action.
The News World bureau chief also said that he and Sharma wrote letters to government authorities, including the state's inspector general of police, to ask for government protection after they began receiving death threats, but they received no response.
Khare confirmed that police received letters from Purohit and Sharma in December complaining about the threats. He said he had no knowledge of Sharma being beaten up.
"[T]he deputy superintendent of police conducted an inquiry and found that there was no threat to their lives," Khare told CPJ.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan, chief minister of Madhya Pradesh state, recommended an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), according to government officials who were quoted by the Hindustan Times newspaper.
CBI spokesperson RK Gaur told CPJ that the agency has not received instructions from the federal government to investigate the case.