The Uttarakhand resort murder has prised open a can of worms and thrown up multiple questions the BJP government is yet to answer.
- Was the resort, run by a BJP leader’s son, being used as a pleasure den for politicians for the past 10 years as a cook has alleged?
- Who is the “VIP guest” who was scheduled to visit the resort on September 19 (a day after the murder) and to whom the murdered 19-year-old receptionist was allegedly being forced to give a massage?
- Was the guest register stolen on the morning of September 19?
- Why did police allegedly rush through the cremation of the victim without showing the body to her mother who was in hospital?
The victim was allegedly thrown off a bridge into the Shakti Chilla Canal in Rishikesh on September 18 by resort owner Pulkit Arya, son of now-suspended BJP politician Vinod Arya. The victim was the receptionist at the resort in Yamkeshwar, Pauri Garhwal district.
Pulkit is in custody and his father Vinod has denied all allegations. But the key questions remain unanswered.
A friend of the victim has said Pulkit tried to force the receptionist on the night of September 18 to agree to “give a massage to a VIP guest” at the resort the next day.
“I was in touch with her over the phone and on WhatsApp till around 8pm on September 18. She told me that a VIP guest was expected at the resort on September 19 and Pulkit was trying to persuade her to give him a massage. Pulkit had also tried to force himself on her. She told me that she was leaving the place immediately,” the friend told reporters on Tuesday.
The account by the cook, who said he left the job after the receptionist’s murder, appears to complement the version of the victim’s friend.
The cook told reporters on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity: “VIPs used to stay at the resort quite often. But the guests’ register was stolen on the morning of September 19. Pulkit’s father had been personally managing the illegal affairs. He used to entertain senior politicians of the state at the resort. Many girls (from outside) used to provide extra services to the VIP customers, but the victim had refused to do so.”
The cook said: “She had called me on September 18, an hour before she was thrown into the canal, and asked me to bring her bag from her room to a shop outside the gate of the resort. I was not at the resort then and returned around 9pm. While I was discussing the matter with some other employees, Pulkit, resort manager Saurabh Bhaskar and deputy manager Ankit Gupta came from somewhere and asked me to cook food for them.”
Saurabh and Ankit have been arrested along with Pulkit.
“The next day, I came to know that Pulkit had deleted all CCTV footage of September 18 night,” the cook said, adding that the police had recorded his statement.
The police, accused of ignoring the complaints of the receptionist’s father, are not speaking to the media about the case.
The office of chief minister and BJP leader Pushkar Singh Dhami said in a tweet on Monday that the special investigation team set up to probe the crime had collected evidence such as the guest list from September 18, CCTV footage and call records.
The receptionist’s mother told reporters on Tuesday: “I had fallen ill after losing my daughter. Officials admitted me to the ICU of the Government Medical College, Srinagar (near her home in Pauri district), on Sunday afternoon and exerted pressure on my husband to agree to have the last rites conducted. I came to know early on Monday morning that she had been cremated. The hospital discharged me at 9am on Monday.”
The receptionist’s body was retrieved from the canal on Saturday.
“I wanted to ask the police to show me my daughter’s face. Why did they force my family members to cremate her when I was not there? It was a trick to destroy evidence of torture on my daughter. My husband told me that the killers had beaten her so badly that one of her eyes had popped out of the socket and there were red marks on her neck. She was cremated to protect the BJP leader and his son,” the mother said.
A video circulating on social media purports to show the mother asking two government officials in Hindi: “When you can forcibly cremate my daughter, you can also promise me that her killers will be hanged. It didn’t happen to my daughter alone, it happened to many daughters of the state. The police have enough evidence, but they are not willing to punish the criminals.”
One of the officials purportedly replies: “Madam, we didn’t have any other option.”
The father of the receptionist told reporters that officials had piled so much pressure that “I was unable to think clearly what to do”.
“They quickly took her to ITI Ghat on the bank of the Alaknanda river and asked my son to light the pyre,” he said.
Vinod Arya claimed he had “resigned” as a BJP member and his elder son, Ankit Arya, had “resigned” as vice-president of the state’s OBC commission and as BJP member “in the interest of an impartial investigation”.
“All the allegations are false; my son (Pulkit) can’t commit any crime,” Vinod said. The BJP has said Vinod has been suspended and Ankit removed from his post.
Chief minister Dhami said: “The family of the victim and the people should trust me. The girl will get justice soon. The BJP leader and his elder son have been suspended from the BJP and removed from the posts they held. We have bulldozed the illegal resort. Every aspect of the case will be investigated and the accused will get the harshest punishment.”
The CMO said the chief minister had requested the formation of a fast-track court “for speedy justice in the case so that the guilty are punished as soon as possible”.
Vijay Kumar Jogdande, district magistrate of Pauri Garhwal, has suspended Vaibhav Pratap Singh, patwari (sub-inspector with the revenue department). Revenue officials, who have policing powers in Pauri, had allegedly sat on the missing complaint for three days instead of transferring the criminal matter immediately to the regular police.
“Despite registering the case of the missing girl, Vaibhav Pratap didn’t take any action and went on four days’ leave from September 20…. He has been suspended for dereliction of duty,” Jogdande said.
Vivek Kumar, a subordinate of Vaibhav who had assumed charge as acting patwari on September 20, was suspended two days ago.
Uttarakhand High Court had asked the state government in 2018 to do away with the system of revenue officials holding policing powers as they are not trained to handle criminal case. But the state government moved the Supreme Court against the order. The case is pending in the apex court.