Thiruvananthapuram, Oct 8: An IAS officer accused of killing a journalist in a case of drunken driving has been appointed in the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Kerala government’s newly formed fake news checking committee.
Sreeram Venkitaraman had come under pressure from the media ever since it was alleged that he was driving the car under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident here last year, and was later charged with killing K.M. Basheer, a journalist who was working with a Malayalam daily.
Vijayan, through the newly constituted committee, expects to rein in the media, especially in the aftermath of a few scandals that have surfaced against his government in general, and him in particular.
Strong opposition to the IAS officer’s appointment surfaced not just from the journalists’ community, but the Opposition Congress-led UDF as well on Thursday.
“Everyone knows about the gruesome death of Basheer, and appointing an accused in the case, to this fake news committee is not acceptable. Moreover, what’s the use of this committee when Vijayan himself is a ‘liar’… and what is there to be checked?” said Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala.
The journalists’ community had expressed its displeasure when Venkitaraman was reinstated by Vijayan in March this year, and was given a posting in the Covid department, as the IAS officer is a also a doctor by profession.
Soon after the accident, during the departmental probe, the IAS officer claimed “there was nothing to prove that he was driving under the influence of alcohol”.
The accident took place on August 3, 2019 while he was returning from a late night party. Venkitaraman, who was allegedly drunk, knocked down Basheer. He was accompanied by a woman friend Waha Firoz, the car owner.
Venkitaraman was suspended from service after two days.
Even as he was arrested and sent to jail, taking into account his health condition, the IAS officer was sent to the state-run Medical College hospital’s prison cell. Later, he got bail.
A state government job was later provided to Basheer’s wife according to her qualifications.
After Venkitaraman’s suspension was revoked, the trial in the case in which he has secured bail, has started.
The chargesheet filed at the Thiruvananthapuram chief judicial first class magistrate court mentions he was drunk and was behind the wheels at the time of the accident.
He has been named as the first accused, and his friend Wafa Firoz, the second accused.