Police in Uttarakhand arrested three people on Friday in connection with the murder of a receptionist at a resort in the Laxman Jhula area who went missing five days ago. All three are from the family of a former BJP minister in the state, police said.
As the “main accused” in the case, Pulkit Arya, the son of BJP leader Vinod Arya, has been named by the police. Under Trivendra Singh Rawat’s previous BJP government, Vinod Arya was a Minister of State.
Police say Pulkit and two others, including the manager of Vanantra Resort, which Pulkit owns, confessed to pushing the woman into a canal following an altercation and have been charged with murder.
According to the police, Ankita Bhandari’s body has not yet been found, although her identity has been confirmed. A police source said Bhandari came from Srikot village in Pauri Garhwal and was hired at the resort about a month ago.
Asked about the motive for the murder, as well as allegations that the woman had resisted attempts to force her into prostitution, Pauri Garhwal SSP Yaswant Singh said the police are “looking into all possibilities
“There’s a phone chat with the girl suggesting that the accused are bothering her. The accused said the girl left with them around 8 pm to go to Rishikesh. Then Pulkit and Ankita had momos and liquor, and later there was a heated exchange near the canal. Ankita threw Pulkit’s phone into the canal during the altercation, and he pushed her into the channel,” the SSP said.
In addition to Pulkit, resort manager Saurabh Bhaskar and another person named Ankit were arrested, the SSP said.
The Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Pushkar Singh Dhami, called the incident “extremely sad and unfortunate” and said the perpetrators would face “strict punishment”. The police are doing their job and justice will be served to the victim, he said.
After several women protesters attacked the police vehicle carrying the accused, the Chief Minister made his statement. Several locals attempted to vandalise the resort, but police stopped them.
According to SSP Yaswant Singh, the accused confessed. The police claim that they pushed the girl into the Chilla powerhouse canal. We have not yet recovered the body. The FIR was initially filed under section 365 of the IPC (kidnapping). “The IPC has been amended to include sections 302 (murder) and 201 (causing the disappearance of evidence or giving false information).”
Senior officers confirmed that police are searching the canal, adding that a missing person report had been filed after the woman went missing on September 18.
The DGP of Uttarakhand Ashok Kumar said, “A girl named Ankita Bhandari, who was employed by Vanantra Resort in Laxman Jhula, has been missing for the past five to six days. The area falls under the Revenue Police area and a missing person’s report was filed there. All three accused were arrested within 24 hours of the case being transferred to Laxman Jhula police yesterday. Main accused Pulkit Arya and two others were arrested.”
Senior officials forwarded the case to Laxman Jhula station after new information was discovered, said Additional SP (Kotdwar) Shekhar Suyal.
A missing report stated something that was not accurate. The resort employees’ statements did not match, circumstantial evidence told us differently… the room from which the girl allegedly went missing did not have any signs of someone sleeping there,” the Additional SP said.
“We tracked the phones, checked CCTV footage, and took statements. We found four people left on that date and only three returned. Next, we arrested them. Initially, they presented themselves as complainants and claimed they, along with the girl, went to Rishikesh and got back safely. “They said the girl ate dinner at night and slept alone in the room where she went missing,” he said.
However, during interrogation, they confessed that they pushed the girl into the canal after an altercation with her.