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Kerala IAS officer arrested over reporter's death

August 5, 2019

Sreeram Venkitaraman, an Indian Administrative Service in Kerala has been sent to judicial custody for two weeks after he allegedly hit a journalist who was on a motorcycle with his speeding car on Friday. The journalist, K Muhammed Basheer was killed on the spot.

35-year-old Basheer was the Thiruvananthapuram bureau chief of the Malayalam newspaper Siraj. The accident took place at around 1 AM in Thiruvananthapuram when he was returning home from work.

Venkitaraman is in a private hospital. He will remain there during the remand period. Police said he would be taken to jail when the doctors allow him to be discharged after treatment.

Venkitaraman was in the car with a woman friend. Police say their statements varied. While Venkitraman said she was driving, the friend initially told the police that he was behind the wheels.

There were conflicting statements. Independent witnesses have now confirmed that that Sreeram Venkitaraman was driving the vehicle. - Dhinendra Kashyap, Police Commissioner, Thiruvananthapuram

There have been allegations that there is an attempt to cover up the case. Police sources confirmed that 33-year-old Venkataraman initially refused to give his blood sample for testing. According to procedure, when someone refuses to give a blood sample, there are legal procedures that need to be followed including arrest and for the blood to be taken by a government doctor. Eventually Venkitraman agreed. "He had certainly consumed alcohol, because the initial medical report states of smell of liquor," police sources told news agencies.

An eyewitness has also said that he saw a car bang into a wall and man come out of the driver's seat. "I saw a car bang into the wall. Initially I didn't see anything else. Then I saw a bike rammed into the wall. Eventually, I saw a man exit the driver's seat," he said.

Images from the accident site show the motorcycle upside down against a compound wall and the car badly damaged in the front. Parts of the motorcycle and the car were strewn around and Basheer's slippers. Blood stains were seen on the road. A case of rash driving and "punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder" have been registered.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala and Minister for Temple Bodies, Kadakkampally Surendran were among those who expressed grief at Basheer's death.

The Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) has demanded a fair investigation and has written to the Chief Minister and the Kerala police chief. Basheer has a wife and two children.

Venkitaraman, a medical doctor and Fullbright Fellow, had recently returned to Kerala after his higher studies. He was the director of the Kerala Survey Department and as sub-collector in Devikulam, had initiated strong action against illegal constructions in Munnar hill station.

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