Jalandhar-based journalist Jasdeep Singh Malhotra was killed and Pathankot district police chief S.K. Kalia was critically injured on Sunday when the vehicle they were travelling in met with an accident near Mukerian town of Hoshiarpur district. Three others, including the driver, sustained major injuries.
Mr. Malhotra (41) was a Principal Correspondent with The Hindustan Times and was reporting for the paper since 2006. Along with photojournalist Pardeep Pandit, he was travelling to Pathankot to report a story on illegal mining of sand and gravel along the Ravi river.
According to the accounts provided by Mr Pandit and local police reports, Mr Malhotra was invited by Mr Kalia to travel in the latter's Innova car from Mukerian onwards. Near Milwan village which falls in Himachal Pradesh, their vehicle was hit by a truck. The car was pushed off the road and it rammed into a tree, where Mr Malhotra is said to have died on the spot, while a critically injured Mr Kalia was rushed to a hospital in Pathankot. He was later shifted to a hospital in Mohali district.
While the Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, Deputy Chief Minister, Sukhbir Singh Badal and Public relations minister, Bikram Majithia, senior leaders of various political parties and journalist organisations have condoled the death of Mr Malhotra, the accident is shrouded in mystery. Mr Malhotra had been very critical on various issues especially illegal mining, road safety as well as law and order. His Sunday morning's story had details about a “goonda tax” with a daily collection of Rs 20 lakh by the sand mafia from Pathankot district alone.
President of the Punjab unit of the Congress party, Partap Singh Bajwa has appealed to the Punjab and Haryana High Court to take suo moto notice and order CBI probe into the accident as he feared that the scribe had been eliminated by the “sand mafia”. However, the Deputy Commissioner of Pathankot, Siben C and Deputy Inspector General of the border range of the Punjab Police, Lok Nath Angra have been quoted in the local as well as social media sites as denying the conspiracy theory. While the authorities almost rule out the possibility of the involvement by the sand mafia, especially when the vehicle belonged to the Pathankot police chief and had uniformed gunmen in it, the conspiracy theory stood ground as neither the truck nor its driver had been identified till reports last came in.
The Resident Editor of the Hindustan Times, Ramesh Vinayak, who accompanied the staff that brought back Mr Malhotra's body to Jalandhar said that the paper would respond after making its inquiry, gather versions of the witnesses and those who pulled out Mr Malhotra and Mr Kalia, after the vehicle had been flung into a ditch. The paper's management would also seek assessment from various official probes into the accident.