Lucknow, Nov. 21: As the 27-year-old Indian Oil Corporation executive got off his car and strode purposefully into the petrol pump, he had no premonition of danger.
“This nonsense has gone too far,” B. Manjunathan would have been thinking. “How dare they open the pump again after I sealed it for selling adulterated oil'”
He didn’t notice the men exchange glances, or some of them creep up from behind him. Then the shots rang out.
The IIM Lucknow graduate from Karnataka paid with his life on Saturday afternoon for his crusade against corrupt petrol pump owners in Sitapur, about 50 km from Lucknow.
Manjunathan, posted at nearby Lakhimpur-Kheri, had become a “nightmare” for Sitapur’s petrol outlets, always dropping in for surprise checks as part of his company’s campaign against adulteration, sources said.
A month ago, he had sealed the Manu Mittal petrol station in Gola on Sitapur Road and blacklisted several others. On Saturday, someone tipped him off that Manu Mittal had resumed selling on the sly. Police suspect it could have been a trap.
The murder would have been pre-planned, for the killers seemed to be waiting for him and recognised the young sales manager as soon as he stepped in, though he had parked his car a little away, probably because he was on a “surprise” inspection.
The killers also had a car waiting. They quickly hauled the blood-splattered body into it and sped off.
“They clearly planned to dump the body at a place where we wouldn’t have found it for days,” Sitapur superintendent of police Aloke Kumar said. “Fortunately, a police patrol got suspicious and ordered the car to stop. They found the body.”
The two persons in the car -- Vivek Sharma, a relative of the pump owner, and Rakesh Kumar, an employee -- have been arrested. The pump owner seems to have fled the town.
The police believe that several petrol outlet owners had plotted together to kill Manjunathan.
Since the news of the murder reached the young man’s home in Kolar, Karnataka, on Sunday, his mother has been fainting off and on. The body arrived this afternoon after a post-mortem.
Manjunathan, from IIM Lucknow’s 2002 batch, had fallen in love with the Uttar Pradesh capital and had opted for a posting in the Lucknow circle, colleagues said.
He was selected in the campus interview and was one of IOC’s brightest managers, said Dilip Kumar, personnel manager, Lucknow. “We lost one from our cream.”
“Manjunathan had all the right instincts as a manager. He was brave, uncompromising and a warm friend,” recalled batchmate Garima in Delhi.
In Lucknow, IOC employees simmered in anger. “We are shocked and are feeling insecure,” Dilip said.
Company staff across Uttar Pradesh initially threatened a strike but later decided to wait for a few days after meeting the state police chief.
The oil giant’s Delhi office has apparently sent a message to state home secretary Aloke Sinha.
Adulteration of oil -- especially diesel ' at petrol pumps is a longstanding problem across the country. Diesel is mixed with kerosene, which is subsidised for the poor.
Manjunathan’s murder comes almost exactly two years after another young man, IIT Kanpur graduate Satyendra Dubey, was murdered after writing to then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee about corruption in the Rs 55,000-crore Golden Quadrilateral Project.
Dubey, a National Highway Authority of India engineer posted in Gaya, Bihar, was gunned down after threatening to expose collusion between NHAI officials and private contractors.
A CBI probe concluded Dubey had been killed by highway robbers, but there have been widespread calls to reopen the investigation.