Bhubaneswar, April 13: Biranchi Das, the former coach of child marathon runner Budhia Singh, was shot dead at point-blank range by motorcycle-borne hitmen this evening in the heart of Bhubaneswar.
The motive behind the murder of the controversial coach, who was accused of torturing Budhia and was locked in a land-encroachment case with the government, was not established till late tonight but Biranchis brother said he saw a gangster in the vicinity.
The murder was committed around 6.30pm while Biranchi, 38, was standing in front of the Orissa Judo Association building, where he stayed with his family. He was talking on his cellphone when two persons on two motorbikes called out to him.
After a few minutes, an altercation broke out between Biranchi and the duo. The men then shot him. We rushed out when we heard the shots. We saw him fall, said Manisha Rout, a student.
Although the association remains closed on Sunday, some members and students had gathered at the institute to organise a feast to celebrate Maha Bishuva Sankranti, the Oriya New Year.
Biranchi Sir was gasping when he was being taken to Capital Hospital, said a student. He had injuries in his chest and neck. We dont know exactly how many bullets were fired at him. It will be known after the post-mortem, said chief medical officer U.K. Mishra.
Biranchi is survived by his wife, who is also a coach, and their three-year-old son. The two were inside when the incident occurred.
Sources close to him suspect the attack was the fallout of professional rivalry or a business deal. Biranchis brother, Muna Das, who was present at the spot, claimed that he saw Raja Acharya, a gangster, there.
Assistant commissioner of police Amitabh Thakur, who is heading the probe, said: There were three eyewitnesses. We have received a strong clue and hope to arrest the assailants soon. Three girls — students of the institute — apparently saw the murder.
Biranchis advocate, Bibhu Tripathy, said he suspected the hand of a professional gang. But Thakur said: Tripathy could not tell us who may have harboured ill feelings towards Biranchi. As such, there were cases against Biranchi lodged by the state government over land encroachment.
The government had filed a case against Biranchi for encroaching on land and constructing the judo association hall.
Biranchi was in the news for grooming Budhia, then four, who made it into the Limca Book of Records by running non-stop from Puri to Bhubaneswar in May 2006.
However, the government had banned the child from running long distances, an order the coach challenged in Orissa High Court.
Budhias family and Biranchi eventually fell apart and the coach was arrested on the charge of torturing the child. Budhias mother had also accused him of misappropriating money donated by various organisations to help the child become an athlete.