Indian officials protest over colleague set ablaze

More than 80,000 government employees in western India stayed away from work on Thursday in protest at the death of a colleague who was set on fire after uncovering a suspected fuel theft scheme.

Members of the Maharashtra Gazetted Officers Association took action “to register our protest against this gruesome act which has shaken government employees”, said president Ravindra Dhongade.

Rallies were also held across the state after Yashwant Sonawane was doused with fuel and set on fire Tuesday after witnessing the theft of kerosene from a tanker near Nashik, about 160 kilometres (100 miles) northeast of Mumbai.

Police said on Wednesday that 11 people had been arrested in connection with the killing. The main suspect suffered severe burns and was being treated in a Mumbai hospital.

Sonawane, 42, worked as an additional district collector — a civil service post with responsibilities for local level administration, including duty and local tax collection.

His assistant, who survived by fleeing the scene, told the domestic Press Trust of India news agency that his boss was set upon after recording the theft on his mobile phone.

Kerosene is subsidised by the Indian government, but is targeted by criminal gangs dubbed the “fuel mafia”, who steal it from tankers to dilute higher-priced petrol with it and undercut the market with the resulting blend.

The Maharashtra state government has promised a thorough investigation and a crackdown on racketeers who target essential commodities like fuel and milk but also illegally mine sand to supply India’s construction boom.

Indian media reported that police raided more than 200 locations on Thursday.