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Police pull girl out of garage hat

Calcutta, Feb. 5: Kidnapped college girl Roma Jhawar is back safe at her Salt Lake home, her gunpoint snatch and mystifying return throwing up a host of unanswered questions.

'I am happy to be back home. I am fine,' the 20-year-old, abducted barely 50 metres from her house, said today.

In a statement contradicted by the Jhawar family, inspector-general of state police (law and order) Chayan Mukherjee claimed his force tracked her down at a roadside garage in the city's Phoolbagan area, 2.5 km from Salt Lake, at 11.30 last night. He said the abductors 'abandoned' her because of 'police pressure'.

But neither the kidnappers nor the off-white Maruti Omni they were travelling in has been traced yet.

Officials also claimed no ransom was paid. But statements from Roma's family hinted at a possible 'settlement'. 'We have been able to get Roma home. Now let the police do their job and arrest the culprits,' her father Satya Narayan Jhawar told The Telegraph this morning.

Mukherjee said from the time Roma was abducted, her family received three calls from her mobile. The first was from Beliaghata shortly after the abduction and the others at 1.36 pm from the Shyambazar area and at 8.30 pm from Phoolbagan.

After tracing the last call, a 70-member force swung into action and finally zeroed in on a 500-square-yard area. 'The police started encircling this particular area. At 11.30 pm, Roma was located standing near a roadside repairing garage in a drowsy state. She could hardly walk or speak,' Mukherjee said but refused to divulge either the location of the garage or its owner's identity.

A 'short while' later, he added, Roma was sent back home. However, the college girl did not return to her CB 68 residence, but to a relative's house nearby.

Mukherjee said from the little Roma could say then, she mentioned she had been given dahi (curd) in the afternoon which must have been laced with enough sedatives to make her drowsy. But the girl, he added, had not been harmed.

Family lawyer Partha Majumdar, however, said: 'Though the police helped us very much, we could not fully keep our faith in them. So we negotiated with the abductors'. We got back Roma from Kankurgachhi early this morning.'

He refused to say if money had changed hands, but a neighbour lent credence to the 'ransom theory'. 'It was our duty, as members of the same community, to collect the ransom money for the Jhawars,' Kamal Gandhi, a businessman, said. Family sources indicated Rs 20 lakh was collected.

Investigations by the CID also indicate that it is not a 'simple open-and-shut case of abduction'. Through most of last night ' much after the police claimed to have sent Roma back home ' the CID questioned four male friends of Roma. 'There could be more to this than meets the eye,' a CID official said.

Later in the day, the police not only quizzed Roma and members of her family for several hours but also brought over her computer to examine emails sent and received.

The sleuths are also investigating a call from Roma's mobile to a friend after her abduction.

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