Mumbai, Aug. 1: The owner of one of India’s largest travel agencies allegedly committed suicide today by jumping off the Bandra-Worli Sea Link bridge in central Mumbai, police said.
Raj Travels’ owner Lalit Sheth, 56, apparently told his driver he had to make a few personal calls and got off his car on the bridge. He then asked the driver to proceed slowly ahead and wait at the end of the bridge but did not return, DCP Dhananjay Kulkarni said.
Sheth’s body was later found floating off the Worli village coast and sent for post-mortem to Sion hospital. He left a suicide note in the car, the police said.
“I failed to fulfil my commitments. I am sorry. I am responsible,” Sheth is believed to have written in the note.
The police are suspecting that heavy losses caused by the slump in international tourism drove Sheth to take his life. Industry insiders hinted that he had been under a huge debt burden.
According to the driver’s statement, Sheth attended a meeting in Bandra at 9.30am. Around 12.30pm, when he was being driven down the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, he got off the car and did not return.
“When there was no sign of Sheth, the driver called his son. His family was unable to contact him. We suspect he jumped off the bridge. His body was found floating on the Worli village coast in the evening around 4pm,” DCP Kulkarni said.
His family, who live in Girgaum in south Mumbai, were too shocked to give statements, the police said, refusing to give further details.
Sources said Sheth moved to Mumbai from Calcutta in 1976 and started off as a tour operator selling packages to Kashmir and south India. In three years, he had begun organising tours to Bangkok, Manila and Singapore.
He pioneered the concept of “caravan kitchens” — sending Indian cooks with international tour groups so clients with restricted food habits had ready access to Indian, especially vegetarian, food. This is believed to have made Raj Travels much sought-after with people going to Europe and other destinations.
The sources said Sheth also started Volvo bus services in over 30 cities in India.
“External factors like devaluation of the rupee, the Internet replacing tour operators, rise in air fares, service taxes have all created a vicious circle, making holidays the last priority for clients. The slump has been affecting the industry since the last three years,” said Nagsri Prasad, the head (outbound holidays) of Mercury Travels.